By CHRISTOPHER DIEM
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE - Antioxidants have been a popular trend among health nuts and they are all that they are cracked up to be.
Red kidney beans and pinto beans are high in antioxidants, which stop harmful processes from occurring inside the body. (Journal photo by Christopher Diem)
Antioxidants are nutrients found in a variety of foods. They help protect cells in the body from damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals.
Free radicals occur in the body as the result of normal body processes, such as the burning of sugars for energy and the release of digestive enzymes to break down food. They can also result from outside sources including pollution, sunlight, X-rays, smoking and alcohol.
Patricia Smith, corporate/community dietitian with the Nutrition and Wellness/Diabetes Education Department at Marquette General Hospital, said free radicals have at least one unpaired electron. When free radicals interact with other molecules they may steal or donate an electron, turning the molecule or group of molecules it interacted with into a free radical.
"What you've got is a chain reaction of turning all these molecules into free radicals. That creates damage within the system. Eventually, after you've got this huge chain reaction and all this breakdown it leads to damaging a cell," she said.
Antioxidants can lose an electron to the free radical but remain stable, stopping the chain reaction and preventing damage to the cells.
"So if you can stop that chain reaction you can slow aging, you can slow chronic disease. It prevents all kinds of damage within the body," Smith said.
Many antioxidants are vitamins like beta-carotene and vitamins E and C and are found in fruits and vegetables. They can also be minerals, such as zinc or selenium.
Good sources of antioxidants are beans and legumes, such as red beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans. Fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, artichokes, prunes, raspberries, strawberries and apples are good sources of antioxidants. Russet potatoes and spices, such as turmeric, are also good sources for antioxidants.
Smith said it is important to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
"You're not going to find antioxidants in a steak, you're not going to find them in an ice cream cone. You're going to find them in your fruits and vegetables and beans, lentils and legumes also," she said.
A good rule for eating healthy is to eat a variety of naturally colorful foods, Smith added.
"The color is a big factor in what nutrients are there. The connection is pretty solid between the color and what is in the food that is worthwhile nutritionally," she said.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.