Food for the soul

Antioxidants and your health: does vitamin c matter?

bet most of us have heard about antioxidants, but I also can bet that most people do not really know what they are and how they work. Here’s the deal: As you know, every cell in your body needs oxygen to function normally.

It is very basic, no oxygen no life. Unfortunately, the utilisation of this oxygen produces harmful by-products called free radicals – and they are really radical in the way they wreak havoc in the body and destabilise even the healthiest of individuals. Free radicals are also created from environmental pollution, certain industrial chemicals and smoking.


Outside the body, the process of oxidation is responsible for a sliced avocado, or banana or apple turning brown, or an iron nail or any metal rusting. That is the visible part of things. Inside the body, oxidation contributes to heart disease, cancer, eye cataracts (when the lens becomes opaque resulting in blurred vision), aging, and a slew of other degenerative diseases. In short, free radicals are the enemy. In simple speak; free radicals can be described as unstable, hyperactive atoms that literally trek around the body damaging healthy cells and tissue.


So why are we all not falling apart due to these monsters called free radicals? Well in part thanks to antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium to help mop up these nasty radicals. And you thought vitamin C was only good for fighting colds and flus, well think again.


That’s why when you squeeze lemon or orange juice over the cut fruits they do not turn brown. Now you know – vitamin C is fighting oxidation. A similar process takes place inside the body when we consume adequate amounts of antioxidants.


Vitamin C. What can it really do aside from the above? Let’s just say that if all the vitamins and minerals were on a pay scale according to the jobs they perform, vitamin C would be a billionaire. Vitamin C wears many hats you see, from helping to keep your bones, teeth, and blood vessels healthy to healing wounds, boosting your immune system and therefore resistance to infection, and participating in the formation of collagen (a protein that helps support body structures).


Another benefit is that eating foods rich in vitamin C helps in increasing the absorption of the mineral iron – good news for people with iron deficiencies or higher iron requirements such as pregnant women. For some interesting and unclear reasons, cigarette smokers require 50 percent more vitamin C than non-smokers. So instead of popping vitamin C pills, why not just quit smoking?


Although vitamin C deficiency is relatively uncommon compared to say vitamin A for instance, it can cause a lowered resistance to infection, sore gums, bleeding, and in severe cases the disease scurvy. So you don’t to be a sailor exploring the high seas to get scurvy. Alcoholics though are prone to scurvy. Scurvy is characterised by bleeding and swollen gums, joint pain, muscle wasting and bruises.


If you happen to experience any of these check and increase your vitamin C intake. But there is no need to mega-dose because since vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, it cannot be stored by the body, and you certainly do not want expensive urine… instead by a fruit.


Foods rich in vitamin C include melons, tomatoes, citrus fruits – such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit, mangoes, papaya, yellow peppers, guava, morula, berries, fortified juices, kiwi, and even potatoes.

How much antioxidants should you be taking?
The primary and secondary focus should be on eating foods rich in antioxidant vitamins. Contrary to what people might think, there are no magic bullets or pills to good health. Sorry to burst your bubble if you have cabinets full of all manner of potions and pills for this and that.


Another plug on good health is that nutrition scientists are constantly discovering new food substances that might help with the quest for well-being and longevity. Furthermore what’s important is that it’s not about one isolated vitamin or mineral but he interactions between several food ingredients that enhance disease prevention and provide improvements in health and well-being. In a nutshell, food remains the best medicine.


The bottom line is if you decide to take antioxidant supplements, you better stay on top of the current research and speak with a competent health and nutrition professional. Save your hard earned cash and be streetwise when it comes to some of the quacks floating around with bogus nutrition products and advice.

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