Antioxidants—it's a word that’s buzzing in the nutrition scene among the health nuts, especially in the last few years.
It’s one term many food makers and marketers love to use to make a big claim on the quality of their supplements, drinks, and foods.
I know many of you have heard their claims too.
Antioxidants make you ageless, wrinkle free and years younger.
We’re constantly bombarded with foods claiming to be packed with these supposedly healthy compounds that can make us healthier, ageless and less prone to sickness.
Nevertheless, these relentless portrayals of antioxidants in many of these health claims make me extremely unsettled and concerned.
Despite how common the word "antioxidants" is becoming very few truly understand the term "antioxidant", what it means, and how it actually works.
So, I thought it would be worth taking a deeper look at what exactly 'antioxidants' are, what they do, how hey work, and where the idea that taking antioxidants is good for your health actually comes from.
If you’re curious, follow along and keep reading to discover the true meaning of antioxidants.
We’ll also look at the evidence of whether antioxidants are actually good and can really make you healthier.
So we can finally really understand antioxidants, in human terms.
Here’s what you’re going to learn from this article.
- What are antioxidants?
- What do antioxidants do?
- Free radicals / oxidants
- Antioxidants benefits
- Antioxidants foods
- Foods high in antioxidants
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are a collective group of nutrients— minerals and vitamins that occur naturally in plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Some of these minerals and vitamins are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
There are quite many.
But, surprisingly, these are not the only antioxidants.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of them to counteract the damage effects of oxidation of cells.
And because they are so varied, different antioxidants provide benefits to different parts of the body or health.
This is part of reason why so many different variety of foods with seemingly different mineral and vitamin contents can claim they are antioxidants foods.
While we can not possibly list all foods, you can find natural occurring antioxidants substances in these foods below:
Also before we hop onto "what antioxidants do?", let's take a brief look of some of the most known antioxidant minerals and vitamins and what foods provide these minerals.
- Flavonols: Flavonols is an antioxidants properties found in dark chocolate, tea, red wine, onions broccoli, kales and buckwheat.
- Vitamin C and A: Vitamin C and A found in kale and oranges are essential for the health of your cells, bones, organs and heart. It is important to get enough of them all to maximize their benefits.
- Lycopene: Lycopene belongs to a general group of more than 600 fat-soluble plant compounds known as carotenoids. Some of the fruits and vegetables that are known to be rich in lycopene are tomatoes, pink grapefruit, papaya, wolf berry and tomatoes.
- Beta-carotene: While beta-carotene are found in carrots, oranges, sweet potato, spinach, squash, and tomatoes.
- Catechins: Catechins found in tea (green tea is rich in this compound).
All in all, to maintain a high level of antioxidants at all times, nothing is more effective than eating a well-balanced diet.
So, we just learned that antioxidants are nothing but a collection of minerals and vitamins. But the next question I pose is what makes these nutrients really relevant and beneficial?
Let's find out.
So what do antioxidants do for our bodies?
In short, antioxidants help prevent or stop cell damage caused by oxidations.
Let's pose a second. Realize that there are two relevant parts to this: Oxidants and antioxidants.
- Oxidants = free radicals, damage cells in our bodies.
- Antioxidants = prevent and repair cells in our bodies.
Simply put antioxidants functions as a defense system in your body, helping to protect or prevent cells damage caused by harmful molecules called —free radicals.
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are a natural by-product of our many bodily functions.
We all know that we need oxygen to live.
In the body, oxygen is vital for the chemical reactions that keep us alive and healthy.
But these reactions also produce free radicals.—A highly unstable molecules with unpaired electrons.
Free radicals are produced when the body breaks down foods for use or storage.
But they are also produced when we expose to tobacco smoke, radiation, and air pollution.
These unstable molecules make their way through our bodies, scavenging cells to try to snatch missing piece—electrons form other molecules, damaging those molecules in the process.
Unchecked free radicals—have been linked to all sorts of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease.
Although free radicals have a well-deserved reputation for causing cellular damage, they can also be helpful, too.
"Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, MD", explained—When our immune system cells muster to fight intruders, the oxygen they use spins off an army of free radicals that destroys viruses, bacteria, and damaged body cells in an oxidative burst.
Antioxidants act as bounty hunter thus helping to keep these free radicals in check.
Powerful antioxidant such as Vitamin C found in oranges and kale has been shown to have a positive effect that can help disarm the free radicals.
Takeaway: Antioxidants are believed to fight the formation of free radicals and may help prevent the cells damaged that comes from oxidation.
Antioxidants are a crucial part of our diet because we can’t avoid oxidation.
Think about it.
All of the contaminants, such as air pollution, radiation, car exhaust, sunlight, we get exposed to in day to day basis.
These types of exposures can cause free radicals to gain speed in your body damaging everything in their path and leaving at greater risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Antioxidants is your defense system against these free radicals.
Think of the time you sliced an apple.
I bet the exposed flesh turned from white to brown before you even knew it.
This browning occurs because of oxidation.
Then something magical happens when you apply a drop of orange or lemon juice to the freshly sliced apple.
It keeps it whiter longer.
It's quite amazing how a simple act can keep apple slices looking fresh for a good half of the day.
This is all because of the antioxidant vitamin C in the juice that protects the flesh.
If anything can illustrate what antioxidants do and how they benefit, this would be it.
It helps our body fight off various damages that can occur in daily activities and normal bodily functions.
More technically, antioxidant benefits is simply that it helps maintain balance in our bodies by neutralizing and removing the free radicals from the blood stream.
Eating a diet high in antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene means better protection for your body and overall health.
And the benefits of antioxidants go beyond the apple, just so you know.
It includes everything from lowering you LDL (bad cholesterol), reducing risk of heart attack and boosting your brain health in the old age.
For example polyphenols, like flavonoids and catechins, all function as powerful antioxidants in the body. And they are all found in green tea.
Multiple studies show that the catechin compounds found in green tea can have various protecting effects on neurons in test tubes and animals models, potentially lowering the risk of disease like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. (1, 2, 3).
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, nearly one million people are living with the disease in the US.
Parkinson’s disease involves the death of dopamine producing neurons in the brain.
In short, some antioxidants properties have been shown to be effective at protecting the brains while others show to be beneficial to eye and skin health.
Takeaway: Antioxidants are beneficial to our health, including skins, eyes, brain, and prevent cancel cells.
They have been found to reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, protecting cells and molecules from damage.
Antioxidants counteract free radicals damaging effects.
To up your antioxidants in your body, aim 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Below I’ll include a list of antioxidants rich foods.
This list of fruits of veggies includes a wide range of minerals and vitamins—including the grandfather of the traditional of the antioxidants, vitamin C and many others.
Aim at getting 5 to 9 servings per day to take advantage of the antioxidants found in various produce.
|Rank||Food item||Serving size||
Total antioxidant capacity
per serving size
|Small Red Bean (dried)||Half cup||13,727|
|2||Wild blueberry||1 cup||13,427|
|3||Red kidney bean (dried)||Half cup||13,259|
|4||Pinto bean||Half cup||11,864|
|5||Blueberry (cultivated)||1 cup||9,019|
|6||Cranberry||1 cup (whole)||8,983|
|7||Artichoke (cooked)||1 cup (hearts)||7,904|
|12||Red Delicious apple||1 whole||5,900|
|13||Granny Smith apple||1 whole||5,381|
|15||Sweet cherry||1 cup||4,873|
|16||Black plum||1 whole||4,844|
|17||Russet potato (cooked)||1 whole||4,649|
|18||Black bean (dried)||Half cup||4,181|
|20||Gala apple||1 whole||3,903|
There you have it!
We just went over what antioxidants are and what antioxidants do for us and how we can benefit from them.
Antioxidants are nothing but a collective groups of minerals and vitamins mainly in plant-based foods that help our bodies defend itself against free radicals— oxidants.
This list of foods here today are full of them. So richer our diets are in these foods, the more antioxidants we can obtain.
Did this article help answer your questions about antioxidants?
Leave me a comment below or any questions you have about antioxidants.