Well, you’ve heard it umpteen times that you are what you eat. And you are probably gearing up already to redesign your food chart to throw in a few healthy choices based on the recommendations of nutritionists. In that case, you must be familiar with the term “antioxidants” – the magical word in the lexicon of health and nutrition that has become a synonym of power-houses of nutrients. After all, who wouldn’t want to look perennially young, energetic and free of ailments! Though such a proposition may sound a fantastic probability, you can turn it into a possibility by opting for a sensible diet plan that includes foods rich in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring chemicals in foods that help to counter the detrimental effects of oxygen free radicals, which form during normal metabolism. External factors like pollution, ultra-violet radiation and x-rays also produce free radicals that affect our system. Free radicals are deprived of oxygen and are responsible for development of serious ailments including cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants convert the free radicals into harmless waste products that are eliminated from the body before any damage is done to the body. Thus antioxidants act as scavengers that rid our body of free radicals that cause serious metabolic disorders by damaging the tissues and cells.
You will realize that it is not actually difficult to plan a diet rich in antioxidants. Most of the antioxidants that we require come from plants. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, cereals and seeds are foods that are naturally rich in antioxidants. The best way to ensure adequate intake of the antioxidants is to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables through a diet consisting of 5 to 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Fruits and vegetables can help guard against heart disease, cancers and the effects of radiation, pollution and ageing.
Pomegranate, grape, orange, pineapple, plum, apple and guava are some of the fruits that have the highest concentration of antioxidants. In addition to being deliciously sweet, berries such as raspberries, blueberries and strawberries offer an abundance of antioxidant capacity. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are rich in proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that can help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Broccoli, Cabbage, carrots, spinach, lemon, ginger, peppers, parsley, kale and red beets and tomato are vegetables rich in antioxidants. Broccoli, a cruciferous vegetable, is one of the best antioxidants. It contains more vitamin C than an orange and has more calcium than a glass of milk. In addition to minerals and vitamins, broccoli is filled with disease-fighting chemicals called phytonutrients. Sulforaphane, a phytonutrient found in broccoli, has been shown to lower the risk of many types of cancers. Tomato is the richest source of a powerful anticancer agent called lycopene.
Broad beans, pinto beans, soybeans are some of the best antioxidant foods.
Barley, millet, oats, corn are cereals rich in antioxidants.
Pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, ground nut or peanut and, sunflower seeds contain good amount of antioxidants.
Garlic, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and oregano are antioxidant spices. Garlic has been used as a natural antibiotic to kill off some strains of harmful bacteria. Garlic is also useful for decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol, removing heavy metals from the body, preventing cancer and acting as an antifungal and antiviral agent. One clove of garlic contains vitamins A, B and C, selenium, iodine, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium.
Green tea contains high concentrations of catechin polyphenols. Green tea, a powerful antioxidant, has also been shown to be preventative against cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol.
Vitamin A includes carotenoids and retinol. They are essential for healthy eyes and prevent macular degeneration or age-related blindness. The antioxidant in vitamin A neutralizes free radicals and boosts your immunity. Beta-carotene, which is sometimes called provitamin A, can be found in fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, guavas, carrots, pumpkins, apricots and all green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B: All B vitamins are essential to a woman’s health. They are essential to brain function, red blood cell formation and DNA building. The important B vitamins are:
Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine helps in metabolism and in facilitating brain function. It can help you boost your memory. Bananas, cereals, oatmeal, avocados, beans, meat or poultry, and seeds are rich in vitamin B6.
Vitamin B9, or folic acid, is an essential vitamin for pregnant women. It strengthens the nervous system of the baby and prevents mental retardation. Vitamin B9 aids production of blood cells and prevent anaemia. Green leafy vegetables, legumes, fortified grains, eggs and liver are rich in vitamin B6.
Vitamin B12 is important for metabolism, normal cell division, and protein synthesis. Anaemia is one of the most common consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency. Sources of this vitamin include milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, meat and fish.
Vitamin C is also called ascorbic acid and it serves as an antioxidant that facilitates wound healing. It helps in the formation of collagen, which is essential for the wounds to heal. It also helps in the production of new red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to your brain and to the other cells of your body. Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, grapefruits, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, oranges and broccoli.
Vitamin D, also called cholecalciferol, functions as a hormone and regulates bone homeostasis, together with calcium. It is an important vitamin for women as it maintains strong and healthy bones. A deficiency of this vitamin can cause you to have osteoporosis. Exposure to sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D. The dietary sources of Vitamin D are eggs, fish and vitamin-fortified products like milk.
Vitamin E or tocopherol acts as an antioxidant that aids in the production of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the integrity of cellular membranes. It is also proved to slow age-related changes in the body. Sources of this vitamin include nuts and nut products, wheat germ, cod liver oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.
In reality, eating healthy is never a cumbersome task. It all starts with a simple step of ringing in variety to your table.
Include a wide of variety of vegetables and fruits that are of different colors. Antioxidants endow plants with their natural color to protect them from the vagaries of climate.
Never succumb to the temptation of picking up those attractive packs of processed foods that are synthetically flavored and colored. Keep off these labelled foods that are loaded with preservatives. Enjoy eating foods in their whole form – be it fruits or brown rice or brown bread or unrefined grains or nuts. Remember, refined foods are almost devoid of antioxidants.
To the best extent possible, always cook your food by steaming or grilling instead of frying that enhances the carcinogenic properties of food.
Never be lured by the temptation to substitute the natural sources of antioxidants with the antioxidant supplements. Supplements that contain antioxidants in excess have found to be harmful to the functioning of the body. Supplements are never meant to be our primary sources of nutrients. The best way to receive the essential nutrients that your body requires is only through food.
Foods rich in antioxidants supply the essential nutrients for your well-being. Include them generously in your diet every day and get that protective cover that shields you from ailments.