What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidant is a popular word that most people use without fully understanding its meaning. We all know that they are good for the health, makes the skin healthy and reduces signs of aging. But how are they able to do all these?  What are these antioxidants? What’s all the buzz about? Why the big deal?

Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by unstable molecules and free radicals. They are compounds mainly found in food that inhibits oxidation which is a chemical reaction that produces free radicals.

 Free Radicals?

Free radicals are waste substances produced as the body processes food substances and reacts to the environment. Though constantly formed during metabolism, its production can also be influenced externally through pollution, inflammation, UV exposure, cigarette smoke among others. The body has to process and remove these free radicals efficiently to prevent oxidative stress.

During oxidative stress, important molecules in the body can become severely damaged leading to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, respiratory diseases, immune deficiency among other inflammatory or ischemic conditions. The body has built-in defenses to reduce the impact of free radicals, but it could use some help. That’s where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals in our bodies which in turn boost overall health.

Antioxidants that are produced by the body are endogenous, while those produced outside the body are exogenous. They could be natural or artificial. Plant-based foods are perceived to be rich in antioxidants called phytonutrient, or plant-based nutrient. “Antioxidant” is not really the name of a particular substance; rather it describes what a range of substances can do. Each antioxidant serves a different function and is not interchangeable with another. This is why it is important to have a varied diet.

Sources of Antioxidants

There are hundreds of substances that can act as antioxidants. Plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants. They are often referred to as a “superfood” or “functional food.”

  • Vitamin A: Dairy produce, eggs, and liver
  • Beta-carotene: Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, peas, spinach, and mangoes
  • Vitamin C: Most fruits and vegetables, especially berries, oranges, and bell peppers
  • Lycopene: Pink and red fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and watermelon
  • Vitamin E: Nuts and seeds, sunflower and other vegetable oils, and green, leafy vegetables
  • Lutein: Green, leafy vegetables, corn, papaya, and oranges
  • Selenium: Rice, corn, wheat, and other whole grains, as well as nuts, eggs, cheese, and legumes

Other foods that are believed to be good sources of antioxidants include:

  • legumes such as black beans or kidney beans
  • eggplants
  • green and black teas
  • red grapes
  • dark chocolate
  • pomegranates
  • Berries such as strawberries, goji berries, blueberries
  • apples
  • broccoli
  • spinach

Tips on how to increase your Antioxidant intake

  1. Include a fruit or a vegetable every time you eat, meals and snacks included.
  2. Have a cup of green tea every day.
  3.  Add in foods with rich colors to your plate.
  4. Spices increases the antioxidant content of your meals. Be sure to use spices like turmeric, cumin, oregano, ginger, clove etc
  5. Snack on nuts, seeds and dried fruit, preferably with no added sugar or salt.