Thousands of foods harbor antioxidants. But what are antioxidants? Why are they so important? What do they do for your body? And where can you find them? In this article, we’ll answer all your burning questions!
What are Antioxidants?
“Antioxidant” is a general term for any compound that can counteract unstable molecules called free radicals that damage DNA, cell membranes, and other parts of cells. Because free radicals lack a full complement of electrons, they steal electrons from other molecules and damage those molecules in the process. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by giving up some of their own electrons. In making this sacrifice, they act as a natural “off” switch for the free radicals. This helps break a chain reaction that can affect other molecules in the cell and other cells in the body. But it is important to recognize that the term “antioxidant” reflects a chemical property rather than a specific nutritional property. 1
Why Are Antioxidants Important?
Antioxidants include beta-carotene and other carotenoids such as lycopene, vitamins A, C, and E, and other natural and manufactured substances. They protect cells from damage because they inhibit oxidation in our bodies and are specifically used to counteract the deterioration of stored food products. In short, antioxidants are the anti-free radicals, keeping the latter from having the opportunity to interact with those molecules with which they were never meant to combine. In this way antioxidants help slow the aging process, reduce inflammation, and boost our immune systems. All of these benefits lessen the oxidative stress on the body.2
What antioxidants do for your skin:
- Anti-inflammatory properties help increase circulation and cell metabolism. Alpha Lipoic Acid, found in pine bark and green tea, is especially well-known for its ability to help even skin tone and keep acne and wrinkles at bay.
- By helping promote cell turnover, antioxidants are ideal for those suffering from hyperpigmentation (age or sunspots) and scarring and those who seek to improve overall skin tone and texture. Products featuring Vitamin C as an active ingredient are highly recommended because they help even out and brighten the complexion for a more youthful, radiant glow.
- Skin-firming abilities not only help slow visible signs of aging like wrinkles and sagging, but also improve the skin’s overall health.
- The appearance of fine lines and wrinkles are reduced. Keep in mind that no product can “get rid” of wrinkles, but here’s where antioxidant-rich creams and serums come into play. Ingredients like Vitamins C and E help restore hydration and therefore plump the skin, leaving the complexion lifted, toned, and more youthful-looking.
- Protecting against sun damage is what antioxidants are most well-known for. They help stimulate blood flow, thereby encouraging cell growth, and also work to boost your sun protection.
What Antioxidants do for your body:
- Anti-Aging Continuous existence of free radicals without the protection of antioxidants can accelerate the aging process. Despite the inevitability of aging, consuming adequate intake of antioxidants may add on more youthful years of life. Antioxidants have also shown to protect against age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Cancer-Fighting Like aging, damaged body cells may accelerate chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Despite conflicting data, most researchers do recognize that the presence of antioxidants may prevent and reduce cancer evolvement.
- Cardio-Protective Antioxidant activity has been shown to decrease LDL or “bad” cholesterol within the blood. Research has shown the intake of antioxidant-containing food sources can protect the heart against disease, primarily related to its ability to reduce cholesterol.
- Arthritis-Defensive Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body essentially attacks its own joints, subsequently becoming inflamed and causing pain, redness, and swelling. The anti-inflammatory properties of antioxidants can defend against associated symptoms of arthritis.
Where to Find Antioxidants
Here is a list of foods high in Antioxidants that you can most likely find at the grocery store!
Blueberries are suggested to not only be the most antioxidant-potent berry, but more potent than any other fruit or veggie. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and acai berries are also beneficial antioxidant sources.
The significant vitamin C content in bright oranges does much more than compliment eyesight… In fact, vitamin C also operates as an antioxidant. Other citrus fruits, such as lemon and lime, have also shown to have a powerful antioxidant effect.
Tomatoes obtain their antioxidant benefits from their lycopene content, a carotenoid and pigment providing tomatoes its red color. Lycopene offers powerful antioxidant properties, ultimately suggested to prevent heart disease and numerous cancer types.
Green, leafy vegetables are continually encouraged related to their high nutritional content, including the antioxidant properties of vitamin E and beta-carotene.
Beans in general are a well-rounded nutritional component, offering fiber, protein, and other valuable nutrients. Additionally, kidney beans and other types also contain influential antioxidant properties.
Sunflower seeds are a significant source of vitamin E, a vitamin displaying great antioxidant properties. Simply enjoy the seeds as a snack or top onto salad, cottage cheese, or yogurt.
Salmon, tuna, and halibut are just a few fatty fish selections rich in the renowned omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s are consistently honored for their antioxidant properties and their relation to heart health.
While consuming colors of the rainbow is suggested to obtain potent antioxidants, stepping away from the bright side with a dark piece of chocolate can offer valuable benefits. To obtain the greatest antioxidant advantages, consume pure dark chocolate limited in added sugars.
Both black and green teas have been touted for their antioxidant content, both showing to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Red wine’s resveratrol content is a significant antioxidant source. Interestingly, white wine has shown to potentially be cancer-provoking, with growing evidence linking red wine’s counterpart to skin cancer. It is important, though, to be aware for any potential medication interactions and stick to the suggested serving and portion sizes – recommendations suggest men limit alcohol intake to two servings per day while women are confined to one, with wine intake confined to five-ounce servings.
Antioxidants defend and inhibit the process of oxidation, a chemical process, and reaction that has the potential to produce free radicals, chemicals that can ambiguously act as good and bad guys. Heroically, free radicals come to the defense when harmful bacteria are sensed, although environmental and dietary factors can provoke potentially toxic compounds. And without the presence of antioxidants, harmful free radicals can damage the body’s cells and incite various reactions on numerous body systems and organs.
There are numerous reasons to consume antioxidants. So, get to shopping and stock up on those free radicals!
- Harvard Health Publishing. Understanding Antioxidants. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-antioxidants
- National Foundation for Cancer Research. Antioxidants: Body Balance. https://www.nfcr.org/blog/antioxidants-body-balance/