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Food as Medicine: Antioxidants
April 22, 2014
By Dr. Beth Quintana, N.D.
Antioxidants are molecules that work to prevent cellular damage in the body that can occur from both internal processes as well as external exposures. Antioxidants work to counter the occurrence or the effects of oxidation, a chemical process in which electrons get passed around and "free radicals" can be produced. Reactive as most free radicals tend to be, they can initiate chain reactions that leave damaged cells in their wake. Antioxidants may stop the chain reactions caused by free radicals, and therefore stop the process of this sort of damage occurring in the body. According to Harvard School of Public Health, “we aren’t defenseless against free radicals. The body, long used to this relentless attack, makes scads of molecules that quench free radicals as surely as water douses fire. We also extract free-radical fighters from food.”
The importance of a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables in the treatment of many chronic conditions cannot be overstated. Several studies have also shown that the incidence of numerous degenerative conditions is highest among people with the lowest levels of dietary antioxidants. Some excellent dietary sources of antioxidants include flavonoid-rich berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. Carotenoids are beneficial antioxidants found in yellow and green vegetables, including squashes, yams, carrots and the cabbage family vegetables.
Eating certain antioxidant-rich foods together increases their protective ability. For instance, putting broccoli (sulforaphane) and tomatoes (lycopene) together increases their tumor protective ability, says Lynda McIntyre, a clinical dietician with Johns Hopkins Hospital. Similarly, she says, carrots and avocado are a nice dynamic duo because beta-carotene is better absorbed in the presence of a fat (short on avocados? Try olive oil). Apples and blueberries, even spinach and strawberries all make for nutrient-dense combinations. Have fun experimenting!