Unless you live under a rock, you have most certainly heard of free radicals in your body, but do you really know what they are and why it’s so important to get rid of them? Today we’re going to explain what free radicals are and how antioxidants in papayas and other foods neutralize them. As a bonus, we’ll also give you a list of foods including papaya that has antioxidants.
What are Free Radicals? Free radicals (FR) are atoms that have become unstable because they’ve lost an electron. Typically, there’s an even number of electrons in an atom. As long as that’s the case, the atom is stable. When an atom is damaged and loses an electron, it becomes unstable and seeks balance either by trying to bond with another molecule or steal an electron from it, which starts a chain reaction that causes cell damage.
How Are Free Radicals Formed? Free radicals are produced by oxidation, the process that occurs when cells are exposed to air. It’s a natural and necessary process that happens during several different bodily functions including breathing. Along with other functions, oxidation is part of the healing process; damaged cells oxidize and are replaced by new, healthy cells. Here are just a few sources of free radicals:
- Cigarette smoke
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Pesticides on food
As you can see, you can avoid some exposure to free radicals, but you can’t avoid it altogether. The real danger from free radicals comes when you have more than your body can dispose of.
How Antioxidants Reduce Free Radicals Antioxidants in foods do exactly what the name implies: they work to stop oxidation. They do this by binding to the free radical before it can bond with a cell, then they carry it out of the body. This stops or prevents the chain reaction that leads to illness. Now you can see why it’s so important to eat foods that have antioxidants. Primary antioxidants are vitamin C, beta carotene, and vitamin E and there are several foods that contain all three. It’s important to get a wide variety because each acts on different types of cells.
Foods that have Antioxidants Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are sources of antioxidants. You can also get them from whole grains, legumes, nuts, and some fish. Here are some of the foods that are sources of antioxidants:
- Blue, red and purple grapes
- Dark green veggies including spinach, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
- Orange and red vegetables and fruits, including sweet potatoes, sweet peppers, beets, carrots, and mangos.
You can also get antioxidants from supplements, but you need to be careful that you’re not also consuming pesticides. Use only organic supplements that are derived from natural sources.
Antioxidants in foods are a critical part of your diet, especially in the polluted world that we live in. You may not be able to avoid exposure, but you can certainly give your body the tools that it needs to fight them!