October is breast cancer awareness month. Whenever there's a discussion about different types of cancers antioxidants usually come up. But what are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are compounds in food (and created by our body) that bind to free radicals. Free radicals are not inherently bad. They're a normal part of oxidation in our body. The problem is when we have too many free radicals. Exposure to pollution, smoke, or excessive sunshine can lead to too many free radicals. Too many free radicals can cause a number of problems from premature aging to cancer (among many other diseases). That's when we need antioxidants to step in and control the free radicals.
You've probably heard that fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants, which is true. A lot of the nutrients that provide the color of the different fruits and vegetables provide health benefits to us, although they are not vitamins or minerals. (We call all those other nutrients phytonutrients.) Whole grains, eggs, and even meat also provide us with antioxidants.
Antioxidants and other phytonutrients are one of the reasons nutrition experts push real, whole foods over pills, juices,and fortified packaged foods. The more we find out about the science of nutrition the more we realize how little we know. For example, some pills supplementing vitamins or minerals aren't as well absorbed by our bodies as when that vitamin or mineral is found in food. Researchers believe that there's something in the food that helps us absorb the vitamin or mineral we need.
Supplement pills, juices, and fortified food all have their place in our diet. But the more we can eat from whole foods, the more health benefits we'll get from the food we eat. It doesn't always have to be fresh food, I know as winter approaches that can be more challenging. Dried, canned, and frozen foods are all good options (frozen being choice number one, but canned and dried not falling too far behind). If you are taking supplements make sure you talk to a doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist about what supplements and how often.
Have a delicious, healthy weekend!
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.