Antioxidants and Myths that Surround Them!

Antioxidants are one of the body’s most powerful weapons in maintaining overall health and wellness.  However, there’s definitely more to these vital nutrients than meets the eye, so this week, I wanted to de-myth the top health claims associated with antioxidants.

1. The role of antioxidants is to remove all of the free radicals that are inside our bodies.

What makes the above sentence a myth?  The word “all.”  Yes, free radicals definitely get a lot of negative hype and attention, but contrary to popular belief, we actually do need some free radicals inside of our bodies. As Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D, and Director of the Antioxidants Lab at Tufts University states, free radicals are “absolutely essential to life.  For example, immune cells will shoot free radicals onto invading bacteria in order to kill them.  They’re an important part of the body’s defenses.”   Hence, it is excess free radicals in the body that can be harmful to humans.  For example, sun overexposure, cigarette smoke, and pollutants can cause so many free radicals that your defenses become overwhelmed, leaving you at a greater risk for disease and cellular damage.  The job of antioxidants, then, is to neutralize free radicals in the body.

2.  The only significant source of antioxidants is found in fruits and vegetables.

Not so much.  Instead, antioxidants are also plentiful in plant based foods as well as many other antioxidant rich foods that don’t fall under the fruit or vegetable category.  In next week’s blog, I will delve into the wonderfully diverse world of foods loaded with antioxidants!

3.  An antioxidant is an antioxidant.  Each of these nutrients offer the same nutritional value to the body.

This actually isn’t true.  You can’t overcompensate on one specific type of antioxidant and then expect it to carry over onto a certain type of antioxidant that is deficient in your body.  For instance, if you consume copious amounts of  oranges for their Vitamin C content, but you are deficient in Vitamin E, the excess Vitamin C won’t be able to act as extra Vitamin E.  Each antioxidant has a different role in keeping your body healthy, so you want to aim to have as much of a diverse plant based diet as possible.  As Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D,  recommends, “Think of antioxidants as an army.  “You need generals, lieutenants, corporals, privates, and others with specific duties. You can’t fight an enemy with only generals.”

4.  Antioxidant fortified foods are super healthy for me and my family.

Most of the time, a food that’s deemed to be fortified with antioxidants is a rather misleading health claim from a manufacturer.  Most food companies have a tendency to exaggerate the actual amounts of vitamins and minerals that their products contain, so it’s up to us as the consumers to read the food labels.  As an example, Cherry 7 Up’s claims to be antioxidant fortified is all well and good, until you read the food label and find the minuscule amount of Vitamin E this soda actually contains.  Finally, the lesson learned here is to blatantly ignore the health claims that manufacturers plaster all over food packaging and instead rely solely on the ingredient labels.  If most of the ingredients are plant based, the chances are high that you are consuming an antioxidant rich food.

As mentioned above, my next post will feature a list of foods that are antioxidant rich…I think some may surprise you!

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

References

IFT. Institute of Food Technologies. N.D. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Masters, Maria. NBCNews. N.P. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

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