Q: I know how important antioxidants are for my health. I would prefer to get as many as possible through food sources rather than supplementation. Can you suggest an easy way to choose the most beneficial foods?
A: Almost every biological function requires oxygen, which supplies electrons to run the machinery of the body. An oxygen molecule that has released its electron becomes a free radical or reactive oxygen species (ROS). When a free radical forms, it becomes irritable and immediately seeks to replace its missing electron. It will do this by stealing an electron from any local protein, fat or DNA molecule. The resulting damage from this free-radical attack contributes to a wide range of illnesses, including heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
Antioxidants are molecules that willingly donate their electrons to free radicals. Vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene are the best known of these natural ROS neutralizers. Nutritional science is discovering that there are many other potent natural anti-oxidants present in a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.
For example, when you consume grapes, cherries, broccoli and tomatoes, you ingest flavonoids, whose antioxidant properties have been associated with reduced risks for heart disease and cancer. Polyphenols, found in nuts, berries and green tea, as well as sulfides, carried in onions, garlic and chives, also have been shown to be valuable free-radical scavengers. Anthocyanins, responsible for the deep red, purple and blue colors of cherries, grapes and berries are some of the most effective antioxidants in nature.
The best way to ensure optimal levels of antioxidants in your diet is to consume a wide variety of fresh colored fruits and vegetables. Red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow peppers, green broccoli, blueberries and purple grapes will bring flavor and nutrition to your body. Good food is better than good supplements.