We breathe in oxygen to live and are necessary for all essential bodily functions. However, a small amount of this oxygen gets loose and produces unstable by-products called free radicals. Body processes, such as metabolism, as well as environmental factors, including pollution and cigarette smoke, can produce free radicals. An overload of free radicals in the body causes damage to the cells, ultimately resulting in disease and accelerated aging. They also interfere with your immune system.
This is how antioxidants play a vital role. Antioxidants provide a layer of protection for the cells and tissues of the body, just as a thick coat of wax helps protect a car's finish. They act as "free radical scavengers" and hence prevent and repair damage done by these free radicals.
Antioxidants are substances or nutrients in our foods which can prevent or slow the oxidative damage to our body. Antioxidants are present in foods as vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and polyphenols, among others. Many antioxidants are often identified in food by their distinctive colors—the deep red of cherries and of tomatoes; the orange of carrots; the yellow of corn, mangos, and saffron; and the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. The most well-known components of food with antioxidant activities are vitamins A, C, and E; β-carotene; the mineral selenium; and more recently, the compound lycopene.
People dealing with a lot of stress, smokers, older adults, and people with a family history of heart disease or cancer can make use of these antioxidants to stay healthy.
Antioxidants have been proven to protect human cells from oxidative damage and provide:
- Anti-aging of cells and overall body
- Greatly reduced incidence of all cancers
- Glaucoma and macular degeneration prevention
- Reduced risk of cholesterol-oxidation and heart disease
- Stronger immunity and resistance to flues, viruses and infections
These colorful fruits and vegetables contain hundreds of phytochemicals in addition to the essential vitamins and minerals they also provide. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring chemicals in plants that provide flavor, color, texture, and smell. With potential health effects, they may boost enzyme production or activity, which may, in turn, block carcinogens, suppress malignant cells, or interfere with processes that can cause heart disease and stroke.