What is a Free Radical?
Exactly what is a free radical? The scientific answer is: an atom or group of atoms with an odd [unpaired] number of electrons that can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Essentially, the free radicals are a form of oxidation, like rust on metal.
Okay, enough chemistry. Let’s discuss what free radicals can mean to the body and how to combat their negative effects.
Free radicals are bad because they interfere with proper cell function and can even destroy otherwise healthy cells. Exercise, particularly endurance-based activity, can increase the accumulation of free radicals in the system. Therefore, if you are engaged in any type of strenuous exercise program, you should be conscious that free radicals could be accumulating in your system and could cause some damage.
Thankfully, there is a simple cure to this oxidation process. Antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and beta-carotene, are able to interact with free radicals and stop their destructive cycle before they damage healthy cells. The trace metals selenium and zinc are also a valuable free radical fighters.
The moral of this story is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and take your multi-vitamin daily.
Adding Antioxidants to Your Diet
But how much is enough? Will a well-balanced diet alone effectively combat free radicals? The answer is controversial and there are many different opinions on what is enough. Free radicals cannot be measured in the body, so it is difficult to tell whether the antioxidants you are consuming are doing the job. Given the other benefits of antioxidants – such as heart health, cancer prevention, and fighting off the effects of aging (e.g. eyesight) – they should be a regular part of your diet even if you are not an endurance athlete.
We always prefer getting as many of our nutrients from the food we eat. You can get beta-carotene from vegetables, particularly dark green and orange-yellow vegetables [like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, apricots, and green peppers].
Even though I eat healthy, I take a multi-vitamin daily to fill in any gaps. This is the easiest way to ensure you are getting enough antioxidants in your diet to combat free radicals. I love Beachbody’s ActiVit Multi-Vitamin. It’s an excellent source of antioxidants as it contains the following:
- Vitamin E (30 IU) = 100% RDA (recommended daily value)
- Vitamin C (120 IU) = 200% RDA
- Selenium (70 MCG) = 100% RDA
- Zinc (7.5 MG) = 50% RDA
UPDATE—This product is no longer available through Beachbody, but you can use this as a guide to choose one from another reputable manufacturer. Amazon is a great resource.