Antioxidants = Functional Foods

What is an antioxidant? It is the body's natural defense against free radicals. Antioxidants render free radicals harmless by neutralizing them. This happens easily when the body is healthy. Fruit and vegetables are wonderful natural sources of antioxidants.

What is a free radical? It is oxidation of cells in the body. As oxygen interacts with the cells in the body, oxidation occurs if the oxygen is not metabolized. The structure of the cell is then compromised becoming damaged. The damaged cell then seeks out another molecular to pair with... robbing molecules from healthy cells and changing the DNA within the cell. Free radicals are the result. When free radicals overtake the body illness or disease is likely to occur.

The environment plays the biggest role in the formation of free radicals in the body. External toxins in the air, water and food trigger the chain reaction that encourages free radicals to form. Cigarette and alcohol excesses also contribute to substantial free radical production.

One way to avoid the body from becoming overwhelmed with free radicals is to eat certain foods. These foods are called functional foods. Functional foods contain certain vitamins and minerals that contain antioxidants that aid the body to rid itself of free radicals. When the diet is full of functional foods the body is healthy. The four most popular antioxidants are Vitamin E, Selenium, Beta Carotene, and Vitamin C.

Good food sources for Vitamin E are: whole grains. Vitamin E is fat soluble vitamin that is stored in some tissues of the body and in the liver. It is essential for preventing blood clots, atherosclerosis and aids the body in the use of oxygen. Protects cells from damage. Improves the process of wound healing. Great for the skin. Works with Selenium and vitamin C.

Robbers of vitamin E are air pollution, birth control pills, excessive intake of processed fats and refined foods.

Signs of vitamin E deficiency are: lack of sex drive, exhaustion after light exercise, easy bruising, varicose veins, loss of muscle tone and infertility.

Good food sources for vitamin C are: citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, green peppers, raw cabbage, green leafy vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, and cauliflower. Vitamin C is not stored in the body. It is a water soluble vitamin found in the all the body fluids, which means it is one of the body's first line defenses. It is important to get vitamin C on a regular basis. Not difficult to do if you eat fruit and vegetables. Robbers of vitamin C are pollution, stress, fried food, cigarette smoke and alcohol.

Deficiency signs of vitamin C are: frequent colds, lack of energy, frequent infections, bleeding or tender gums, nosebleeds, slow wound healing and red pimples on skin.

Good food sources of the mineral Selenium are: tuna, oysters, cottage cheese, beef liver, cabbage, cod, chicken, eggs, garlic, shellfish, grains, molasses, and mushrooms. All vegetables that are grown in selenium rich soil. Selenium is vital in reducing inflammation, promotes a healthy heart, stimulates the immune system to fight infections, and protects against carcinogens. It is needed for metabolism. Robbers of selenium are refined foods and modern farming techniques.

Signs of a selenium deficiency are: signs of premature aging, cataracts, high blood pressure, frequent infections and family history of cancer.

Good food sources of Beta carotene are: carrots, cabbage, melon, pumpkin, tomatoes, apricots, tangerines, papayas, sweet potatoes, watercress and mangoes. Beta carotene (vitamin A) is the most studied carotenoid. Needed for healthy skin inside and out. Antioxidant and immune system booster. Essential for night vision. Protects against many forms of cancer. Robbers of beta carotene are: heat, light, alcohol, coffee, and smoking.

Deficiency signs of beta carotene are; mouth ulcers, poor night vision, acne, frequent colds or infections, dry flaky skin, dandruff, thrush or cystitis, diarrhea.

There has been an extensive research by Tufts University in Boston on a new way to rate a food's overall antioxidant power. Each food can be assigned a number of ORAC units (short for "oxygen radical absorbance capacity"). Foods that score high in ORAC units are helpful in countering free radicals. The amount ORAC units all should consume a day is 3,500, although 5,000 to 6,000 will give you even more protection against aging. You will also be better protected against cancer and heart disease. Consequently this means eating 5 servings of fresh organic fruits and vegetables a day. For example a cup of blueberries has 3,240 ORAC units.


Patrick Holford,"The New Optimum Nutrition Bible" Nutrient Fact File A to Z,2004;7/480-495;2/18 126-136