We hear a lot about antioxidants in the health, wellness and nutrition worlds. The word gets thrown around a lot without much clarity on what it really refers to. Generally speaking, most of us know that antioxidants are an important part of our nutrition, but do you actually know what antioxidants are, what they do, and where you can find them?
Today I’m going to try and clear some of that confusion up, and help you be antioxidant-aware.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants act as scavengers in the body, helping to prevent and repair cellular damage.
There are two primary types of antioxidants, endogenous and exogenous. Endogenous antioxidants are created inside our bodies while exogenous antioxidants come from sources outside the body, i.e. diet.
There are many exogenous substances out there that have antioxidant properties, but some of the most effective are thought to be vitamins A, C and E as well as beta-carotene and lycopene.
How Do Antioxidants Work?
Let’s start with some basics and learning how these powerful substances work. If you break down the word antioxidants you get anti (against) oxidants (oxidation), meaning that antioxidants are substances that prevent cell damage caused by oxidation in the body.
When certain types of oxygen molecules are allowed to float freely in the body and can cause oxidative damage, they are what is known as free radicals.
These free radicals can be damaging to the body and have been linked to cancer and premature aging. Free radicals form when an atom or molecule splits and is left with an odd, unpaired electron.
Antioxidants neutralize this cellular damage by donating one of their own electrons to end the electron stealing reaction caused by free radicals.
The Antioxidant – Free Radical Relationship
The Antioxidant – free radical relationship is a delicate balance. In fact, in essence free radicals are not all bad. Some free radicals are needed within our bodies to power certain reactions. Hydrogen peroxide (a free radical), helps to activate white blood cells to ward off certain types of harmful. Because the antioxidants in our bodies are limited, we must keep free radical stores under control or damage can start to take place.
Types of Antioxidants
Examples of antioxidants that come from outside the body include vitamins and minerals such as: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, selenium, manganese, and zeaxanthin.
Additionally, flavonoids, flavones, catechins, polyphenols, and phytoestrogens are all types of antioxidants and phytonutrients, and they are all found in plant-based foods.
Each antioxidant serves a different function and is not interchangeable with another. This is why it is important to have a varied diet.
The best sources of antioxidants are plant-based foods, including fruits and vegetables. Foods that are particularly high in antioxidants are referred to as a “superfoods.”
To obtain some specific antioxidants, try to include the following in your diet:
Dairy produce, eggs, and liver
Most fruits and vegetables, especially berries, oranges, and bell peppers
Nuts and seeds, sunflower and other vegetable oils, and green, leafy vegetables
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, peas, spinach, and mangoes
Pink and red fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and watermelon
Green, leafy vegetables, corn, papaya, and oranges
Rice, corn, wheat, and other whole grains, as well as nuts, eggs, cheese, and legumes
Other foods that are good sources of antioxidants include: eggplants, legumes such as black beans or kidney beans, green and black teas, red grapes, dark chocolate, pomegranates, and goji berries
Foods with rich, vibrant colors often contain the most antioxidants.
Most people only need to take antioxidant supplements is if they have a deficiency. For example, vegetarians might need iron or vitamin B12, or people with osteoporosis might need extra calcium and vitamin D.
If you follow a healthy balanced diet, and you have no vitamin deficiencies, adding supplements is probably not needed. In fact, some supplements can be harmful in large doses and may interact with some medications. Our advice is always to get as much of your nutrients from good whole food sources and supplement where needed.
Consuming antioxidants through a healthy whole food diet can help prevent a number of diseases. Supplements can help in people with certain needs.
If you want additional information, please book a nutrition check-in with one of our coaches.
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