The role of antioxidants in preventing disease becomes more and more compelling. Moreover, the reports regarding the benefits of antioxidants are increasing, and I feel they will persist. Although the terms “antioxidants” and “free radicals” are being used more and more by nutritionists and other health professionals, it is unknown whether supplemental antioxidants provide the same benefits as those occurring naturally in foods.
Although oxygen is vital to life, it may contribute to aging and illness. When the body burns oxygen, cells form by-products called “free radicals,” which can damage these body cells. As soon as we are born, the body begins defending itself against these free radicals, excesses of which have been linked to more than 50 ailments, ranging from premature aging and clogged arteries to cataracts and cancer. Antioxidants, both naturally occurring and dietary, combine with these free radicals and protect the cells. In addition to the oxidation in normal metabolism, many more free radicals are produced during strains to the body. Examples are sunlight, stress, excessive exercise, tobacco, alcohol, infection, and environmental pollutants such as pesticides.
Antioxidant vitamins in produce and other foods may represent a modern-day “Fountain of Youth.” Evidence suggests that these phytochemicals (plant compounds) may reduce the risk of some forms of cancer, heart disease, stroke and cataracts, as well as slow the aging process. There are some claims that antioxidants may even help migraine headache sufferers, especially those for whom medical management has been ineffective.
A powerful antioxidant called lycopene (related to beta-carotene in a group of substances called carotenoids) is found in high concentrations in certain vegetables such as cooked tomatoes. Another carotenoid is called lutein and may help in the patient with macular degeneration, a serious eye disease. Lutein is found in plants such as dark green leafy vegetables, or can be taken as an oral supplement (6 to 10 mg daily). Before taking any supplement, ask your doctor if
you might benefit from it or not.
The best sources of nutrients are natural foods, particularly since so many other healthful substances are contained in these foods. Vitamin C is abundant in most fruits and vegetables, as are all antioxidants. Vegetable oils, sweet potatoes and almonds are high in Vitamin E. Beta-carotene is found in yellow, orange and dark green, leafy vegetables. Selenium is contained in seafood, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat meat and dairy products. Antioxidant activity is found in condiments such as cayenne, chili pepper, ginger and garlic, and almost all herbs have these properties. An example of foods claimed to be among the highest in antioxidants are cooked tomatoes (think pasta sauce, catsup & pizza), blueberries and green tea.