The problem is that many people have heard the word(s), but they don’t really know what they are. You may know that they are good for you, but you may not really understand how to get them, how much you need, or why they are healthy.
What are Antioxidants?
So here’s a short little nutritional lesson for you. According to the Mayo Clinic,
“Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and carotenoids may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Other naturally occurring antioxidants include flavonoids, tannins, phenols and lignans.”
Ok, so antioxidants protect you from free radicals. Awesome! That explains everything! Except…what are free radicals? Well, I went to WebMD for that:
“Free radicals” are unstable atoms, or molecules, in your body. They are missing important components that would make them more stable. So they rob other cells of those components to meet their needs. This causes injury to previously healthy cells. Over time, this damage can lead to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s disease.”
To sum it up, this is how I imagine it. I vaguely remember my high school chemistry lessons – not enough to actually do any chemistry, but enough that I remember the diagrams of atoms with their electrons. Remember how each atom had a “proper amount” of electrons? Like, Hydrogen has 1 electron, Helium has 2, Lithium has 3, etc (I definitely googled this.) When they have their proper amount of electrons, they are happy and whole. When one or more of their electrons are missing, they’re out of whack and look for other atoms to connect to in order to fill up. This is how we get H2O and other compound elements.
NOTE: I am not a chemist. This is not a chemistry lesson. This is simply how I visualize free radicals and antioxidants.
Within our body, when an atom becomes unstable (missing one or more of their electrons), it will try to latch onto another atom in order to become whole again. Our atoms constantly lose electrons through oxidation, which occurs because of a variety of factors – pollution, aging, dietary choices, drugs, stress, infections and other similar, daily interferences.
If there are plenty of antioxidants to choose from, it will latch onto one of those and be healthy and happy. Antioxidants are not like atoms in that they will not become unstable if they donate an electron to another atom. They’re just fine without it! With enough antioxidants roaming within your body donating electrons as needed, all your atoms will stay healthy and happy and whole.
Unfortunately, if there aren’t any antioxidants available, it will latch onto another atom, stealing one of it’s electrons and causing damage. Then that atom is unstable, and the cycle repeats over and over causing myriads of damaged atoms within our body!
The resulting damaged cells cause diseases such as cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes and many, many more common illnesses that cause thousands of death each and every day.
I found an incredibly helpful video that very nicely describes the process: Antioxidants vs Free Radicals by Kyle Thronthwaite
Super Foods and Antioxidants
The reason I mentioned “super foods” in relation to antioxidants earlier is because it is now trendy to call foods that are high in antioxidants “super foods.” It basically means food that will protect your body from common diseases – and even heal diseases that have already started – simply by providing these necessary antioxidants to our system.
So where can you get loads and loads of antioxidants? Primarily from plants! If we go back to that article by the Mayo Clinic, they continued on to say, “Plant-based foods are the best sources [of antioxidants]. These include fruits, vegetables and their juices, whole-grain products, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and even chocolate. As a bonus, most foods high in antioxidants are high in fiber, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and good sources of vitamins and minerals.”
Isn’t that incredible!? Just add as many plant-based foods to your eating plan as you can and you can start healing your body and preventing disease immediately. Literally immediately.
Here’s one more quote and resource for you: “the more you eat, the more you benefit, with no end in sight.” http://nutritionfacts.org/video/maxing-out-on-antioxidants/