What Makes Superfoods so Super?

If you are getting more conscious of your health as you age, you are far from alone. More and more people realize that what they eat can have a profound effect on their energy levels, their flexibility, joint comfort, and the likelihood of developing age-related conditions.

While the term “superfood” isn’t an actual clinical term (and, rather, a marketing one without official weight), foods that are touted to be “super” usually do have some fantastic benefits.

Generally speaking, superfoods are those that are dense with nutrients and beneficial to our health and wellness.

In today’s article, we’re focusing on a type of nutrient that packs a powerful punch and, in our opinion, puts the “super” in superfood: antioxidants.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances that may help delay or prevent damage to the cells in our bodies. There is evidence that eating fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants can reduce the risk of a range of diseases.

Examples of antioxidants include:

  • beta-carotene
  • lycopene
  • lutein
  • selenium
  • Vitamins A, C, and E
  • astaxanthin

Scientific research indicates that eating foods rich in antioxidants as part of a balanced diet can have a significant positive impact on multiple aspects of health and wellness. Learning to identify these foods, and the best ways to prepare them, are the first steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

Why do we need antioxidants?

This might seem dramatic, but healthy cells in our bodies are under attack every day. Normal cellular processes lead to byproducts that create oxidative stress—not just high-stress, physically demanding conditions.

Put simply, oxidative stress is the damage that free radicals in our bodies incur on our healthy cells.

When left unchecked, too many free radicals (and, in turn, oxidative stress) are dangerous. Lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking, and excessive sun exposure are triggers for damage. Even healthy activities like exercise can produce these substances and lead to long-term damage if we don’t give our bodies rest and the nutrients they need to battle free radicals.

This cellular damage can ultimately contribute to premature aging, disease, and illness.

We’ve painted a pretty harsh picture of free radicals, but like many things in life, free radicals aren’t 100% negative. For instance, free radicals are used in the immune system to battle infections.

So where do antioxidants come into this oxidative stress-free radical debacle?

Taking a closer look at the break down of their name, anti-oxidants help neutralize or prevent oxidation from occurring. (That is, they satisfy the free radicals’ need to break down our healthy cells).

What are some good sources of antioxidants?

Eating antioxidant-rich foods can help combat free radicals and protect your cells as you age and as you navigate through the challenges and stressful situations of life no matter how big or small.

There is a vast array of antioxidants, each with its own unique benefits. The carotenoid family, for instance, contains over 600 entries on its own.

Vitamin C is the most popular vitamin, but it is actually a potent antioxidant. It is available in a wide array of fruits and vegetables.

While most people think instantly of citrus fruits, many other fruits and vegetables are even better sources such as broccoli, cantaloupe, and red and green peppers are among the best sources. Experts recommend at least two cups a day of fruits and vegetables to get enough vitamin C. Fresh, frozen and canned vegetables are all good sources. When choosing frozen or canned options, avoid those with added sugar and salt.

Lycopene is another antioxidant that has gotten a lot of attention lately. It is the substance that gives tomato skins their brilliant red hue. While many vitamins and minerals are more available in fresh, raw produce, this is not true of lycopene; it is more accessible to our bodies when cooked.

Vitamin E seems to work best in conjunction with other vitamins to protect healthy cells. This vitamin is available in whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

A balanced diet can also include foods that are high in both protein and vital antioxidants. Most people know that fruits and vegetables can be great sources of antioxidants. Did you know seafoods like crab, shrimp and salmon like crab, shrimp, and salmon are sources of other, but equally beneficial antioxidants? Selenium and the carotenoid astaxanthin are two examples of antioxidants found in marine life.

It’s All About Balance

To get the most benefit, a wide variety of antioxidant-rich foods should be part of your habits every day. Some individuals find that, when life gets in the way, supplements can help them bridge the gap.

By ensuring that you are consuming plenty of antioxidants no matter what life throws your way, you can stop the damage that free radicals can do and keep your cells healthier, longer.

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