Free radicals are molecules containing oxygen that have an odd number of electrons. This odd number of electrons makes them capable of interacting with other molecules very easily. Because free radicals can react so easily with other molecules, they are capable of causing chemical changes or reactions in our bodies, called oxidation reactions.
Oxygen in the body divides into individual atoms with unpaired electrons. These individual atoms are called free radicals. Electrons tend to be in pairs. These free radicals keep searching for other electrons to pair with throughout the body.
Oxidation is however a normal process occurring in the body but there is always a balance that exists between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. If this balance is disturbed, the body is under constant oxidative stress.
Although not visible initially, this scavenging activity causes major damage to DNA, proteins, and cells in the long run. This is where antioxidants come into action. Antioxidants help by counteracting the effect of free radicals and making them less reactive. Antioxidants do not become unstable despite donating an electron to the free radicals to make them less reactive.
Ways to Combat Free Radicals in the Body
Free radicals are associated with several serious health conditions in humans. Heart diseases, high blood pressure, neural diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzeimer’s disease, diabetes, Atherosclerosis, and even cancer can be linked back to the effects of free radicals in the body.
DNA and proteins are the building blocks of a body. So, even a little bit of damage to these parts can cause several major ailments in the future. Food plays a crucial role in determining the number of free radicals in our bodies. Binge eating or overeating furthermore adds to the problem as more the free radicals are produced, the more we eat. As we overeat, mitochondria, which is the powerhouse of our cells, produce more activated oxygen thus increasing the levels of different types of free radicals in our body.
There are certain ways to combat free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Let us have a look at some of them:
1. Refined carbohydrate and sugar-rich foods like pastries and sugary cookies should be avoided, as consuming these increases the chances of free radicals generation in the body.
2. Limiting red meat consumption is another way of preventing the formation of free radicals in the body. Red meats are high in iron content which makes them particularly vulnerable to free radicals.
3. Limiting the consumption of processed foods like sausages, ready-to-eat meals, and bacon.
4. Avoid reusing cooking oils and lards. Reheating used cooking oil oxidizes them, leading to the generation of free radicals.
5. Eating foods rich in antioxidants is essential to keep a check on free radical formation in the body. Plant-based food items provide antioxidants in the form of Vitamin A, E, and C.
6. Incorporating green tea into our daily routine is a very healthy practice. Green tea is rich in antioxidants, which help in reducing the effects of free radicals.
7. Superfoods like ginger and turmeric not only enhance the taste of foods by many folds but also help in combating free radicals in the body.
8. Limiting the intake of alcohol can prove to be a wonderful way of reducing the generation of different types of free radicals.
9. Incorporating food items rich in lycopene, β-carotene, and lutein in the diet is essential for fighting free radicals. Vegetables like Brussels sprouts, carrots, mangoes, golden corn, tomatoes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, and collard greens. There are several ways to incorporate these food items into our diet in the form of salads, curries, and pastas.
10. Replacing dessert items like rich sweets and pies with fruits is another way of preventing free radical generation in the body. Fruits like apples, cantaloupes, grapefruits, kiwi, papaya and especially berries like cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are rich sources of antioxidants necessary for combating free radicals in the body. These are delicious and healthy alternatives to food items rich in refined carbs and sugar.
The free radicals attack the very building blocks of our body and ultimately make us susceptible to various chronic diseases. Watching our food intake as well as what we are eating helps in limiting the free radical generation in our bodies.