Your concerns about the health of your family are implied. You have often seen several supplements available over-the-counter, and wonder what these actually contain and how these protect against diseases. Though you plan a good diet for all at home, you are not sure if you should include these supplements for all.
Antioxidants are substances that protect the body against free radicals. Free radicals are harmful entities that are produced in the body as a by-product of the cellular chemical reactions that process the food to produce energy. Reactive oxygen species that carry additional negative charge are one such harmful free radical formed in the body. Exposure of the cells to smoke, toxins, radiation, and pollutants can also lead to formation of free radicals. Free radicals play a role in the development of several diseases including cancers.
The body has its own antioxidant mechanisms. There are special proteins called enzymes that form part of chemical reactions that mop up the free radicals as these are generated. These enzymes are the superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase.
Sources of Antioxidants
Vitamins and trace elements, some substances found in small quantities in many foods, possess antioxidant action. The vitamins like vitamin A, C, and E have antioxidant properties. Trace elements like selenium, copper, zinc, and manganese are known for antioxidant action. Besides these, lutein, and lycopene are other substances with antioxidant action. Antioxidants are found in a number of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, fish, and poultry.
Vitamin A, an antioxidant, is found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and collards and in yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes. It is also in abundance in milk fortified with the vitamin and in liver. Eggs, oily fish, yogurt, and margarine are other rich sources.
Beta-carotene is a pigment found in plants and colorful vegetables that gives them the red, yellow, or orange color. It is a precursor of vitamin A and gets converted to vitamin A in the body. Beta-carotene is found in green peppers, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, squash, and other green plants.
Vitamin C, another antioxidant is found in sprouts and a number of citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, sweet lime, strawberries, and kiwi. It is also found in some vegetables like tomatoes, sweet red peppers, cabbage, and broccoli.
Vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant that is found in whole grains like wheat and oats, sardines, green leafy vegetables, egg yolk, nuts, and seeds. Plant oils like soy, safflower, corn, and olive oil are rich sources of vitamin E.
Selenium is a trace element found in foods like bread, eggs, fish, tuna, turkey, cod, beef, walnuts, and brazil nuts. Zinc is another micronutrient that is an efficient antioxidant. It is found in whole grains, soy foods, legumes, and fortified breakfast cereals. Dairy products, poultry, shellfish, and meat are other sources of zinc. Oysters and mollusks are rich sources of zinc. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and water melon. Other rich sources are the guava, papaya, and apricot. Lutein is found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, corn, broccoli, and squash.
Antioxidants and our body
Antioxidants are important in several disease processes. Atherosclerosis, deposition of fatty plaques in the lumen of blood vessels, needs fats to be oxidized. Antioxidants prevent atherosclerosis and its complications. Antioxidants hence prevent heart disease, stroke, and disorders of the kidney. Blockage of the vessels of the eyes, limbs, and other organs is also prevented. Antioxidants prevent cancers. Antioxidants protect against the malfunctions of the defense system of the body called the immune system and maintain the internal milieu of the body by helping to keep the appropriate levels of enzymes in the endocrine system.
Multivitamin-multimineral supplements are widely used, especially by the older population. Teenagers trying a crash diet may also try to look for dietary supplements.
Antioxidants are beneficial for various body functions at the cellular level, but the routine use of antioxidant supplements is not recommended. A balanced healthy diet is the best source of all essential nutrients. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are rich sources of vitamins and nutrients that have antioxidant action and should be consumed in plenty. Popping a pill can never substitute a healthy diet. People recovering from some illnesses need supplements sometimes and the same may be advised by the treating healthcare professional.
Antioxidants offer long term protection from chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables should be an integral part of daily dietary routine. Have them in plenty. Have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables in a day. These offer much more nutrients than any supplement available.