Why Antioxidants Are So Important For Your Health

Why Are Antioxidants So Important For Your Health?

Free radicals are unstable atoms that contribute to illness and aging. Although they're part of a necessary function in our bodies and an important component of our immune systems, they can accumulate and cause damage to our cells. But natural products and plant-based foods containing antioxidants protect against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Antioxidants minimize cell damage and counter the negative effects of free radicals.

What is oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress is a physiological process that has been linked to aging and damage to healthy cells. It occurs in your body when you have an imbalance of too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants.

Oxidation is required for our bodies to function. Our cells convert sugar into energy to give us the fuel we require. This process releases free radicals. Free radicals also play a critical role in our immune system, attacking foreign invaders. Yet a buildup of too many free radicals has been associated with many illnesses and aging. Too many free radicals lead to cell and tissue damage.

The creation of free radicals in our bodies is a complicated cycle. Free radicals are missing electrons. The free radical will take an electron from a molecule. Now that molecule is missing an electron and becomes another free radical, looking for another electron. But antioxidants can break the cycle. Too many free radicals in your body can damage DNA, proteins, lipids, cell membranes and much more.

What causes a buildup of free radicals?

Aside from the normal functioning of our bodies when they create free radicals, a buildup can happen when you're exposed to other sources, including environment and diet.

Common sources of free radicals include:

  • Air pollution.
  • Smoking.
  • Pesticides.
  • Cleaners.
  • Radiation.
  • Ozone exposure.
  • Foods high in sugar and fat.
  • Alcohol consumption.

The connection between free radicals and exercise

It's not only unhealthy activities that can contribute to an overabundance of free radicals. Research has shown that heavy, intense exercise can also create this buildup. But don't think you can use this as an excuse to stop exercising, as moderate exercise counters the effects of oxidative stress.

However, exhaustive workouts can contribute to free radical creation in your body. Whether you're a long-distance runner or cyclist or you're lifting heavy weights, if you've completed a workout that leaves you taxed, don't neglect to eat plant-based recovery foods or add natural products to your diet to get your balance of free radicals back on track.

It's impossible to avoid every environmental and dietary source of free radicals. But we can reduce oxidative stress by exercising moderately, eating plant-based foods and using natural products. All of these things add or promote antioxidants, which is the key to staying healthy.

How do antioxidants work?

Antioxidants are powerful molecules found in plant-based foods that protect healthy cells from the damages of oxidative stress. Phytochemicals (plant chemicals) in vegetables, fruits and grains contain nutrients that function as antioxidants. Research has linked eating a healthy diet full of plant-based foods with lower incidences of disease.

As we discussed previously, our bodies need free radicals to metabolize food into energy, and it is always forming new free radicals. Without antioxidants, this would quickly lead to massive cell damage, causing illness and fatigue. The job of antioxidants is to neutralize free radicals. The antioxidants get used up during this process.

With the body continuously producing free radicals, it's critical to continuously bring in antioxidants to maintain a healthy balance. Our bodies do produce antioxidants, but they aren't enough to combat all of those free radicals. We need help from plant-based sources.

Sources of antioxidants

You can get plenty of antioxidants from your diet. Naturally occurring antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, tannins, flavonoids and phenols. Even better, foods high in antioxidants are often full of fiber, vitamins and minerals and low in fat and cholesterol.

Some healthy sources chock full of antioxidants include:

  • Berries.
  • Dark leafy greens.
  • Cherries.
  • Carrots.
  • Pomegranates.
  • Cranberries.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Olives.
  • Fish.
  • Nuts.
  • Sunflower seeds.
  • Green tea.
  • Cinnamon.
  • Onion and garlic.

And good news for coffee drinkers and chocolate lovers: coffee and cocoa are brimming with antioxidants. But remember, don't overdo it as milk chocolate is full of sugar and fat. Also, you can turn a zero-calorie coffee drink into a very unhealthy one when you add creamer and sugar. You'll want to steer away from overdoing it on caffeine as well.

How can natural products help?

To maintain your health, you need to not only try to avoid unhealthy habits that lead to oxidative stress but also add food and products containing antioxidants to your routine. Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will help your body get all the antioxidants it needs. And for times when your diet may be lacking, choosing supplements that contain whole plant-based foods can help you be sure you don't have any nutritional gaps.

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