Free radicals are chemicals that can damage tissues. They do this through reacting with the components of the cells. While some free radicals are required for correct metabolic function, for example in the immune system, too many free radicals cause disease and ill health. Free radicals can be generated from pollution, poor diet, too much exercise, stress or smoking tobacco. Free radicals are now thought to be involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity. Antioxidants are chemicals that can react with free radicals and prevent them damaging tissues. Boosting levels of free radicals is therefore beneficial at protecting from disease.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most fruits are a rich source of antioxidants. Generally plants produce antioxidants to protect their own cells from damage by the environment, particularly the sun. While animals can move to the shade to avoid the sun, plants do not have this luxury, As a result they rely on the generation of antioxidants to protect their tissues. Carotenoids and flavonoids are the main phytochemical antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, but there others such as vitamin C and the terpenes. When we eat the fruits and vegetables some of the antioxidants are absorbed and this protects our own tissues from free radical damage.
Herbs and Spices
Although most people consider fruits and vegetables to be the best source of antioxidants, this is not the case. Most spices for example have much higher concentrations of antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. In addition, spices tend to contain unique antioxidants that have specific biochemical effects and in this way confer health benefits not provided by fruits or vegetables. Some herbs also provide useful antioxidants that can differ from those in fruits and vegetables. Spices are a great way to boost antioxidant levels because they can be added to foods during cooking, and also make great condiments in certain dishes.
Tea And Wine
Both tea and wine are rich sources of a large number of antioxidants. Green tea contains catechin antioxidants, while black tea contains tannins. Both tannins and catechins may protect the body from free radical damage and this may explain the health benefits of tea. Red wine contains a plethora of antioxidants many of which have not been characterised. Of the known antioxidants in red wine, resveratrol is perhaps the most studied, as it may be protective of both cancer and cardiovascular disease. Other antioxidants in red wine include quercetin, which has also been widely studied for its beneficial effects against disease.