What are they and how do they affect the body?
Free radicals are molecules that can cause chemical reactions in the human body.
They are naturally formed inside the body at tolerable levels and used in several biological functions such as cell division and communication as well as fighting infections. Additionally, free radicals are formed by several factors outside of the body like smoking, pollution, and radiation. Excess free radicals can exist beyond the body's ability to tolerate them, in which case a condition known as oxidative stress occurs.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. As a result, free radicals can cause a variety of human diseases such as cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's diseases.
How do dietary ingredients affect free radical formation?
The type of food we choose has a great effect on the formation of free radicals.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are an essential part of our diet because of their diverse health benefits. Consuming complex carbohydrates, plant-based protein, and healthy fats reduce inflammation and diseases in the long run.
- Dietary carbohydrates are important to focus on because they affect inflammation. An association between a high glycemic index diet and chronic diseases has been found. A high glycemic index diet is known to be high in sugar and refined carbs with things such as white bread and rice included in it.
- Consumption of a high animal-based protein diet has various effects on health. Meat is one of the most consumed animal products; however, it is high in protein and saturated fatty acids. When meat is consumed excessively, our gut gets affected negatively which then affects the body's overall function.
- Processed meats such as sausages, bacon, and salami should be avoided because they contain preservatives that increase the production of free radicals.
- Saturated fatty acids are dangerous if consumed in extreme amounts. They are mainly found in meat and dairy products.
- A high-fat diet leads to the excessive formation of bad cholesterol and triglycerides. When this occurs, it leads to the blocking of blood vessels by forming plaque which causes cardiovascular and circulatory diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, and heart attack.
Antioxidants are an essential part of our diet because of their huge role in fighting free radicals. The most popular antioxidants are vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, B-carotene, and lycopene.
When choosing foods, remember to choose rich antioxidant foods for their ability to fight free radicals and prevent diseases. Below you will find a focus list of nutritious food to incorporate into your diet that help prevents and fight against bad free radicals:
Blueberries contain antioxidant compounds known as flavonoids anthocyanin, which give blueberries their color and are proven to fight free radicals.
Walnuts contain a high amount of polyphenols, which decreases oxidative stress and inflammation.
Spinach has two great sources of antioxidants- lutein and zeaxanthin. They play an important role in protecting the eyes from harmful UV light and damaging wavelengths.
Broccoli has a high concentration of glucoraphanin which is a powerful antioxidant.
Dark chocolate includes several antioxidants like polyphenols, flavonols, and catechins.
Green and Black tea are rich in polyphenols including catechins, and theaflavins which decrease the risk of chronic diseases.
Pomegranates get their red color from polyphenols- vital antioxidants that fight inflammation and protect cells from damage by removing free radicals.
Keep in mind that a rainbow of colors from both fruits and vegetables provides you with various types of antioxidants. Variation is what enables the body to attack diseases and infections caused by free radicals.
Some cooking methods are better than others when focusing on limiting the formation of free radicals, and retaining as many antioxidants and nutrients as possible.
- Prefer steaming. Water usage leads to decreased nutrients and antioxidants when cooking vegetables.
- Attention to fats and oil during the cooking process. Fats and oils can form free radicals when used for deep frying or when reused several times such as is often done at restaurants.
- Limit red meat. It has high iron and fat content. This makes it more vulnerable to oxidizing when cooking at high temperatures, thus forming free radicals.
What should be a healthy and balanced plate model?
A healthy eating routine is vital to enhance your immunity and live a life without diseases. A healthy and balanced plate model contains a variety of fruit, vegetables, grain, plant and animal-based proteins, and dairy products. When it comes to choosing foods and drinks, it’s essential to limit added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
Next time you want to choose your food, choose options that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants.