We need to talk about free radicals. No, they aren't a band...though it's an excellent name for one. We won't go into the chemistry of it all, but free radicals are essentially atoms in your body that interact with certain molecules. Some of these interactions can be beneficial...killing bacteria, for example. The problem is free radicals aren't too picky about who they interact with. In addition to killing bacteria, they tango with other cells or DNA, causing cell damage or death. When this happens, the party's over.
Cell damage and death has been linked to:
- Stroke and Heart Attack
- Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's
And that's not all, if you can believe it. There are dozens more ailments and illnesses free radicals are thought to contribute to. Luckily, our bodies possess an antioxidant defense system designed to deal with free radicals. And there's an easy way to boost that system that's also delicious and very, berry nutritious.
Fruits (berries specifically) are antioxidant powerhouses. Vitamins C, E and carotenes, all antioxidants, are abundant in berries. Strawberries actually have more vitamin C than oranges. Berries also contain zinc, which aids immune function and helps ward off colds, calcium, which maintains bone density, and fiber, which lowers blood sugar and cholesterol, and contributes to a healthy digestive system. Berries are also low in sugar compared to other fruits.
You'll never completely rid your body of free radicals. Everything creates free radicals...even exercising. But you can make sure your body is primed to combat their harmful tendencies by adding a healthy serving of berries to your diet, and making sure you're eating a well-balanced diet.
When shopping for antioxidant and nutrient rich berries, keep this in mind:
- Color is key. The darker the berry, the higher its antioxidant content. So get to know blueberries and blackberries, they're antioxidant rock stars.
- Whenever possible, to buy organic. Non-organic farms use pesticides, which it's best to avoid. If you can't find organic, make sure you wash your berries before enjoying them.
- Buy fresh berries. Berries pack the strongest antioxidant punch when they're fresh. So try to use fresh fruit (in cereal, as a snack, or in smoothies) when you can. Figure out when your favorite berries are in season, and use the off season to try berries you've never had before (loganberries), or berries that never go out of season (grapes and tomatoes are berries...really).
- One of the best ways to incorporate berries into your diet is through a smoothie. They take just seconds to make and are perfect for when you're on the go. Just blend together your favorite berries with some Greek yogurt and a little ice. If everyone knew how easy it was, Smoothie King could be out of business!