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Feb 4

Antioxidants and free radicals: Why you want one and what you can do about the other

Antioxidants. The term is always there—on packaging, in conversation, in articles—you know you want them  but do you know why?

I wasn’t quite sure myself until I actually attended a class on the free radical-antioxidant relationship: antioxidants are compounds that protect the body from damage, particularly free-radical damage. But there’s another term…free radical. Images of miniscule protesters spring to mind, shouting, disrupting equilibrium, causing a mess…and that’s actually not far off.

In order to appreciate what antioxidants do for us, first you have to understand what free radicals do to us.

Free radicals are essentially incomplete atoms (they’re actually missing certain components: electrons) and desire—more than anything else in the world—to become complete (by gaining the electron they’re missing). They will stop at nothing to reach this goal, including grabbing the electrons they’re missing from surrounding atoms. Then those atoms become the dangerous free radicals, zipping around your body, desperately trying to stabilize themselves by taking electrons from other atoms.


Why does it matter if atoms are missing electrons or not?

Atoms make up our cells and are crucial to every single function in our body—which means that incomplete atoms make up structurally damaged, incomplete cells. These incomplete cells vary in their ability to cause real damage to your body: maybe a cell in a hair follicle becomes improperly structured by too many incomplete atoms—not such a big deal right? But say an important immune-protective cell is put out of commission by too many incomplete atoms…and say this happens repeatedly…your immune system’s ability to protect you from infection will be significantly reduced.

How common are these damaged atoms? Very common. In fact, atoms are being damaged almost constantly.

Consider this: free radicals are formed whenever cells are damaged due either to exposure to a variety of toxins—chemicals, radiation, smoke, and pollution—or to high heat, or sometimes even to oxygen, and through certain normal body activities (such as exercise). Cell damage is occurring almost all the time.

Luckily, we’ve been provided with a formidable weapon against free radical damage: the antioxidant.

Specific nutrients (vitamin and mineral compounds) and enzymes are antioxidants that protect our cells against free radical damage by providing an electron to the free radical so it doesn’t have to steal one from surrounding atoms—antioxidants are electron donors.

Our bodies will actually form super-antioxidant compounds by combining single-nutrient antioxidants. And the more of these compounds you give your body, the fewer damaged cells you’ll have.

Some of your most potent warrior antioxidants are the vitamins beta carotene, C, and E and the minerals selenium and zinc, plus the powerful enzyme superoxide dismutase.

So…where can you find these little warriors? Recruit by including the following in your diet:

  • Beta carotene: a type of vitamin A found in non-animal food sources. Those highest are sweet potato, carrots, spinach, and kale.
  • Vitamin C: you’d guess oranges, wouldn’t you? Actually, Bell peppers and papaya are tops!
  • Vitamin E: sunflower seeds and almonds (the perfect afternoon snack…)
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts, sardines, and shrimp (just perhaps not together!)
  • Zinc: venison, mushrooms, and pumpkin seeds
  • Superoxide dismutase: to make this super-warrior (think the big guy on the horse with the battleaxe) you need copper and zinc primarily, plus manganese. Get copper from sesame seeds and pumpkinseeds and manganese from grains, like spelt or brown rice.

And these are only your main warriors—the leaders of your antioxidant army, so to speak—but there are hundreds of other bodyguards, many with organ-specific protective capabilities. Learn how to incorporate these targeted antioxidant into your diet: contact me at

Want a meal that will give you ALL of these antioxidants? You know you do. Find it here: