By Melissa Buscetta, RD, CDN

What is free radical damage? Many believe that free radical damage is the heart of why we age. The free radical theory of aging states that every time we consume something, we generate what are called free radicals.

There is a structure in cells called the mitochondria, which is the powerhouse to the cell. When you take in food sources, the mitochondria generates energy, and as a by- product, forms an oxygen ion with a negative charge known as the free radical. This free radical is like a scavenger. It looks around and says “I need another electron to make me free, to make me not so agitated. I’m going to bombard the muscle cells and cause atrophy. I’m going to bombard the brain cells and cause things like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. I’m going to bombard the spleen and decrease the immune system.” After a while these membranes get little holes poked in them and they can become rancid and build up toxins in our body.

What can we do to prevent this? Antioxidants are one of the most powerful weapons against free radical damage.

They give up an electron to the free radical so the free radical can’t damage us. The main antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene and selenium, along with phytochemicals, such as lycopene and lutein. The best sources of antioxidants can be found in fruits and vegetables, and additional sources include nuts, whole grains, some meat, poultry & fish.

The dietary guidelines put forth for Americans recommends making half of your plate vegetables at every meal. Women need 2 to 2.5 cups a day, and men require 2.5 to 3 cups daily. As a general rule of thumb, the deeper and darker the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more antioxidants it has. Fruits such as berries are chock full of phytochemicals that can help to increase blood flow to the brain to help slow the gradual decline of memory loss as we age. Green tea is loaded with polyphenols like flavonoids and catechins, which function as powerful antioxidants that help fight against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. Randomized, placebo-controlled trials provide the strongest evidence and offer little support that taking vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, or other single antioxidants provides substantial protection against heart disease, cancer, or other chronic conditions.

Eating a variety of foods offers a synergistic effect on the body where a number of antioxidants work together to help fight free radical damage. So, eat the rainbow!

Barber, J. J., Casper, D. S., & Spackman, V. C. (2003). The forever factor: add years to your life, and life to your years. Springville, UT: New Horizon Communications.

Melissa Buscetta, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is currently working with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients. She is very enthusiastic about teaching others how to live a healthier life before and after bariatric surgery.