There is certainly hype around antioxidants! But what are they? Why is it important we have a healthy balance of them? And how can you increase your antioxidants?
Written by Louise Comerford. Louise is currently completing a MSc in nutrition and she is keen to share her enthusiasm and knowledge with people. With her passion for food, science and the healthiness of body and mind, she hopes to inspire others to make small changes with huge benefits to their lives.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are simply substances which prevent and reduce the damage caused by oxidation. They protect against oxidative damage by sacrificing themselves to free radicals.
Oxidation is the reaction of oxygen with other molecules. As long as we breathing and eating, oxidation is occurring within our body, it is unavoidable. A small percentage of oxidative reactions result in the production of damaging free radicals.
Free radicals are troublesome and unstable molecules which steal electrons from other structures, damaging cells and DNA. Of course, for such a normal process, our smart body has its own defences against it. It is oxidative stress which is problematic.
Oxidative stress is where oxidation outweighs the body’s antioxidant resources. This imbalance is thought to lower your immune system and mental functioning, and be one of the main driving forces behind aging signs and multiple diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Rheumatoid arthritis and cataracts.
There are multiple environmental &life style factors known to increase oxidation
- Highly processed foods
- Inadequate exercise
- Physical stress (infection, injury, & excessive exercise)
- Emotional stress
- Air and water pollutants
- Excessive exposure to sunlight
How to restore your balance
One obvious action would be to do your best to avoid and reduce your exposure to the risky factors. But, we are still going to experience these from time to time, if not on a regular basis. Another effective way to restore balance is to enjoy more delicious antioxidant rich foods!
A large amount of research suggests that an antioxidant rich diet is associated with delayed aging signs, stronger immune system and a lower risk of multiple chronic diseases. Natural antioxidants found in food include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Beta-carotene, Zinc, and Selenium. Each type plays a slightly different protecting role in the body, so it is important to eat a variety of sources, in order to optimise the benefits. An easy way to do this is to follow the well known advice ‘eat a rainbow’, and have a diet full of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains.
Antioxidant rich foods
Acai berries, blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, raspberries, pomegranates, plums, and aubergines, figs, beet root, red cabbage, prunes, raisins.
Kidney beans, cranberries, cherries, red apples, red grapes, strawberries, goji berries, pink grapefruit, water melon, tomatoes, and red pepper.
Carrots, orange and yellow peppers, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, mangoes oranges, nectarines, lemons, grapefruit, peaches, apricots, and passion fruit.
Spinach, kale, cabbage, water cress, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, avocadoes, peas, courgettes, green apples, green grapes and kiwis.
Onions, garlic, leeks, cauliflower, potatoes, nuts (walnuts, brazil nuts, pistachios & almonds) seeds (sunflower seeds& flax seeds), dried beans, lentils, whole grains (brown rice, wild rice, oats, quinoa& barley), and CHOCOLATE (dark chocolate or raw cacao).
Green tea and black tea, whilst not food, are another extremely effective way to get your antioxidants and also keep your self hydrated.
Beware of supplements
Research into to antioxidant supplements has been much less promising than antioxidant rich diets. There is little evidence to suggest that taking antioxidant supplements increase health. In fact there is a worrying amount of research that suggests they can be harmful.
Researchers still have no idea what doses are beneficial and safe, or how the antioxidants interact with each other or other nutrients. Until the day that there is a better understanding, it would be more beneficial and safer to get your antioxidants from food.