There are free radicals present in our bodies that contribute not only to our ageing process but also contribute to our falling ill. These radicals also damage body cells and tissues, causing much harm. But then, what are free radicals?
Free radicals are waste substances produced by the body’s cells as the body processes food and reacts to the external environment. They are compounds that can cause harm if their levels become too high in the body. Free radicals have been linked to multiple illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, etc. If the body cannot process and remove these free radicals, it leads to oxidative stress, which can harm cells and body function. Free radicals can be produced in the body when there is inflammation, exposure to pollution, to ultraviolet radiation, cigarette smoke, etc.
Oxidative stress can result due to:
- Mitochondrial activity in the cells
- excessive exercise
- Tissue trauma that results because of inflammation and injury
- Ischemia and reperfusion damage
- Consumption of certain foods, especially refined foods, fats, artificial sweeteners, and certain dyes and additives
- Smoking and excess alcohol
- Environmental pollution
- Radiation and exposure to radioactive materials
- Exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides and drugs such as chemotherapy.
- Industrial solvents like turpentine from paints, benzene from rubber and ethanol. Such activities and exposures can cause cell damage.
WHAT ARE ANTIOXIDANTS
Antioxidants are the body’s agents that help fight against free radicals. They help to prevent or slow the process of damage caused by these free radicals.
Antioxidants can be from natural or artificial sources. Certain plant-based foods are thought to be rich in antioxidants. Some antioxidants, known as endogenous antioxidants, are also produced in the body. Antioxidants that come from outside the body are called exogenous. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals in our bodies, which is thought to boost overall health and slow the ageing process. Lowering vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration can be done with the help of antioxidants.
TYPES OF ANTIOXIDANTS
“Antioxidant” is not the name of a substance but describes what a range of substances can do.
There are lots of substances that can act as antioxidants. Each has its role and can interact with the other to help the body work effectively.
Examples of antioxidants that come from outside the body include:
- Vitamin A
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
FOOD SOURCES OF ANTIOXIDANTS
Antioxidants from fruits and vegetables (plant sources) are considered the best type of antioxidants for the body. Such foods that are high in antioxidants are often referred to as “superfoods” or “functional food.”
To get some kinds of antioxidants, the following should be added to our diets:
Sources include dairy produce, eggs, liver and carrots.
Sources include most fruits as juices and smoothies. 100% fruits are highly recommended or in their unprocessed forms and vegetables.
Sources include nuts and seeds, sunflower, vegetable oils, and green/leafy vegetables.
Sources include brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, peas, spinach, and mangoes.
Sources include Pink and red fruits such as pomegranate and vegetables like tomatoes. Watermelons are also a rich source of lycopene.
Sources include green/leafy vegetables, corn, papaya, and oranges.
Sources include rice, corn, wheat, whole grains, nuts, eggs, cheese, and legumes.
*Other foods that are believed to be excellent sources of antioxidants include:
- Garden egg
- legumes such as beans
- green and black teas
- red grapes
- Foods with rich colours often contain the most antioxidants.
EFFECTS OF COOKING ON ANTIOXIDANTS
Cooking particular foods can either increase or decrease antioxidant levels. This depends on the amount of heat applied.
Lycopene is the antioxidant that gives tomatoes their rich red colour. When tomatoes are heat-treated, the lycopene becomes more bioavailable (easier for our bodies to process and use).
Some antioxidants, however, lose their antioxidant activity during the cooking process. They include; cauliflower and pea.
To increase antioxidants levels in the body, our diets must contain:
- fruits and vegetables when we eat, meals and snacks. We can have fruits in various forms, including smoothies when eating 100% fruits is highly recommended.
- Having a cup of green tea is also important in maintaining healthy antioxidant levels.
- Eating foods with rich colours, such as kale, beets, and berries, is important.
- Using turmeric, ginger, clove, and cinnamon to spice up your meals’ flavour and antioxidant content is essential.
- Snacking on nuts and seeds is essential in increasing antioxidant levels in the body. Nuts such as Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, and dried fruit or nuts are important.
- Free radicals are responsible for a wide range of diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and vision loss, but this does not mean that an increased intake of antioxidants will prevent these diseases. Antioxidants from artificial sources may increase the risk of some health problems.
- Consuming fruits and vegetables have been linked to reducing the rate of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. The antioxidants present in them play a significant role. It is, however, uncertain that antioxidants. obtained from processed sources have the same protective benefits as naturally occurring ones.