What are antioxidants and why do they matter? How to boost antioxidants in your child’s diet and the best places to find them.
The term “antioxidants” has become somewhat of a health buzzword that gets plastered on headlines and food packaging.
But what does it even mean? Why do they matter? And where are they found in your child’s diet? Let’s discuss.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are compounds that help protect our cellular health. Every day, our bodies’ cells are exposed to many things that can be potentially harmful.
Some of these are called free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells and DNA and promote illness and aging.
Free radicals can accumulate due to things we eat or drink, the stress we experience, and environmental toxins we’re exposed to like pollution and pesticides. Smoking, excessive alcohol, and even sunlight will also trigger free radical formation.
However, free radicals do serve some purpose in the body. The immune system uses them to help fight off infections. They’re also made within our own bodies as a natural byproduct of certain processes.
But in excess, free radicals become problematic.
That’s where antioxidants come in. They help keep free radicals in check by neutralizing them and rendering them harmless.
To think about this in another way: This is why antioxidants like vitamin C or vitamin E are often used as preservatives in food. They help minimize oxidative stress that causes damage to said food and increase its shelf-life.
Benefits of antioxidants
Getting an array of antioxidants in our family’s diet is a proven way to help protect our cells from damage and disease.
Why? Research has connected the buildup of oxidative stress from free radicals to things like:
- Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases
- Heart disease from clogged arteries
- Autoimmune diseases
- Age-related vision changes
- Age-related changes like graying hair, wrinkles, and changes in skin
The human body has its own antioxidant defenses to help keep free radicals under control. However, we tend to lose the ability to fight off free radicals as well as we get older.
So, why does this matter now? Ensuring that our kiddos get antioxidants in their diet now is a great way to help get them in the habit of eating foods that are good sources.
How to get more
Don’t worry, there are likely thousands of different substances that can act like antioxidants in our diet.
Antioxidants are predominantly found in plant foods, though there are some animal sources, such as astaxanthin, which provides the pink pigment to salmon.
Overall, the best sources of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables, but other plant foods also contribute. The more colorful, the better! Aim for a rainbow of produce on your family’s menu.
Here are some of the best sources of antioxidants:
- Berries, like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries
- Dark leafy greens, like spinach and collards
- Bell peppers
- Cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and kale
- Soy foods
- Dark chocolate
- Red cabbage
Antioxidants are found in numerous foods that are especially easy to find on a predominantly plant-based diet. We encourage you to incorporate a variety of colorful plant foods into your child’s menu!
Chime In: What antioxidant-rich foods does your family enjoy?
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