What are Antioxidants?

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Which of the two images look more appetizing? If you chose the image with the burger held by a hand, it’s probably due to its vibrant coloring, and detail. Have you ever thought about why fruits and vegetables are so colorful? Probably not. Well, it just so happens that there is a scientifically sound story as to why these superfoods are so vibrant, and ironically enough, it all has something to do with why we consume them.

You see, fruits and vegetables are filled with these things called antioxidants, which are responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their appetizing colors. It’s safe to say that you’ve heard it at least once in your lifetime that you need to consume antioxidants, or that antioxidants keep you healthy, right? But have you ever wondered why? What exactly are antioxidants? Let me break it down for you.

What are antioxidants?

According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of the infamous China Study, antioxidants are chemicals that exist solely in plants. (They only exist in animal-based foods to the extent that animals eat such plants and store the antioxidants in their tissues. Animals do not naturally produce antioxidants.) Anyway, when a plant absorbs light energy it converts this light energy into usable energy or food via photosynthesis, which is simply the process by which electrons bounce from molecule to molecule inside of the plant’s leaf.

Dr. Campbell claims that this process however, is highly complex, and must be managed very carefully. If these electrons stray from their rightful paths, they can wreak havoc in the plant and cause large amounts of damage, similar to the way high amounts of radiation can cause DNA damage in humans. These electrons that essentially sway away from their rightful paths are known as free radicals. However, plants take care of these horrible free radicals by using their antioxidants to form a shield around them, and intercept them so they do not cause damage to the plant tissue. That is why fruits and vegetables have such vibrant colors, because the chemical properties responsible for doing away with nasty free radicals are the same chemical properties responsible for absorbing visible light. That is also why humans are drawn to colorful foods that are aesthetically pleasing in nature, and deem them as appetizing because subconsciously, through human nature, our bodies understand the necessity for consuming such foods.

According to Research Gate however, there is an issue. If the ratio of free radicals to antioxidants is too great, the plants cells will die due to its inability to intercept and scavenge free radicals that cause the plant damage. Below is a diagram from Research Gate  exemplifying the process by which plants detoxify themselves with free radicals. The right side portrays potential cell death. ROS simply stands for Reactive Oxygen Species or free radicals.

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How do antioxidants benefit humans?

Wonderful! Plants have the ability to save themselves. So why do we care? Well, it just so happens that throughout our lifetime we naturally create low levels of free radicals in our bodies, causing our bodied to become rigid and stiff. This is essentially what aging is. With poor diet and little to no exercise, free radicals can cause hardening of arteries, cataracts, arthritis, and many other downfalls of aging.To make matters worse, due to the fact that humans do not carry out photosynthesis, they do not create the antioxidants necessary to combat the effects of free radicals.

However, there is good news. The way antioxidants work miracles in plants, is similar to the way they work in animals. In order to rid our bodies of these nasty chemicals, we must consume antioxidants. Some antioxidants take form in what are known as carotenoids, such as betacarotene or lycopene which exist in red, orange and yellow colored fruits and vegetables. Other antioxidants are colorless and exist as vitamin E and vitamin C.

Further research regarding antioxidants has suggested that low levels of antioxidant consumption can lead to the formation of diseases such as cancer. (To find out more, read the China Study by T. Colin Campbell, or view his webpage for scientific evidence on why living a plant based life is beneficial).

The take away message from all of this? You’re parents were right when they scolded you about eating your vegetables. After all, mom always knows what’s best. Fill your body with vibrant colors, fruits and vegetables. Who knows, one day it may even save you from acquiring an illness, or it may even elongate your life. Fill your plate with fresh produce, it will only be the veganing.

Also, below are some charts exemplifying antioxidant rich foods to help kickstart your new plant based lifestyle. Enjoy:)

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 (Image via pinterest.com)

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(Image via Whatishealthfood.net)

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(Image via lethal.com)

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