Antioxidant, we have thrown this term around a lot on this site and we have claimed that they are important for your well-being, but you might be wondering how? And why? Well, the answer is a bit complicated but rest assured, we shall do our best to explain it to you. Not only that, we will also inform you on how to get these ever so vital substances. Here is Antioxidants: Their Importance and Sources
To understand how antioxidants are beneficial to you, you must first understand what free radicals are and how these free radicals can harm you. In chemistry, when an atom, molecule, or ion has an unpaired electron, it is called a radical. Free radicals in our body are oxygen-containing molecules with unpaired electrons. These unpaired electrons allow free radicals to react easily with other molecules. This can lead to large chain chemical reactions. When these reactions happen, it is called oxidation.
While oxidation is a normal and necessary part of our physiology, oxidative stress isn’t. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity in your body. Your body accumulates free radicals through normal metabolic processes. Or you accumulate them via external sources like X-rays, ozone, cigarette smoking, air pollutants, and industrial chemicals.
When there is no imbalance, free radicals help fight off pathogens in your body. But when there are too many free radicals, they can damage fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in your body. And since all these proteins, lipids, and DNA make up a large portion of your body, damage to them can have significant consequences over time. Oxidative stress can lead to a plethora of diseases. Including:
- Inflammatory conditions
- Heart diseases
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels)
- Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
Some scientists have even theorized that oxidative stress contributes to the aging process.
Now that we’ve scared you sufficiently, let’s discuss how to neutralize free radicals. It’s simple: an increased level of antioxidants is how you do it. So that begs the question once again: what are antioxidants? Well, dear reader, antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical without turning unstable themselves. We mentioned above that free radicals have unpaired electrons and this makes them highly reactive. An electron donated by antioxidant stabilizes the free radical and makes them less reactive.
We’ll make this clear beforehand, that it is impossible to completely escape free radical exposure. However, there are certain dietary choices you can make that can minimize its effects. Your body does have antioxidant defences such as cellular antioxidant glutathione to keep free radicals under control but as they say, “it’s never enough”. So it is a good idea to do your boost up your antioxidants, we would go as far as to say your life literally depends on the intake of certain antioxidants, namely: Vitamin C and Vitamin E. While these are vital for you, there are many “unnecessary” antioxidants present in foods. They might be unnecessary for your body but are very effective in general health.
Similar to humans, plants, animals, and all other life forms have their own defenses against free radicals. This means all whole foods of plant and animal origins contain antioxidants.
You might’ve heard plenty of experts and non-experts emphasis the benefits of a plant rich diet. Antioxidants are a partial reason for these benefits.
Also Read– Ways to Cope With Psoriasis
There are 2 types of dietary antioxidants: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble antioxidants act in fluids outside or inside cells. While fat-soluble antioxidants act chiefly inside of cell membranes. The extremely vital antioxidants we mentioned before – vitamin C and vitamin E are water-soluble and fat-soluble respectively. Flavonoids are also essential dietary antioxidants, besides having other health benefits. In fact, many other substances that function as antioxidants have other essential functions. Curcuminoids and oleocanthal are outstanding examples of this. They have potent anti-inflammatory characteristics and function as antioxidants.
Sources of Antioxidants
Insofar we have told you of the importance of antioxidants and that you can find them in foods, but which foods? Well, almost anything you eat has a certain amount of antioxidants but there are a few standout sources:
- Dark Chocolate – If you love chocolate, you already know that dark chocolate is the healthiest. With minimum added sugar and significantly more cocoa than regular chocolate, it is very nutritious. It has more minerals and antioxidants. In fact, dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants. 100 grams of dark chocolate contain significantly more antioxidants than even blueberries (100 grams) and raspberries (100 grams). Furthermore, the antioxidants in cocoa and dark chocolate reduce inflammation and the risk factors of heart disease by helping lower blood pressure. A study even found that cocoa can raise blood antioxidant levels. Raising levels of HDL (the “good” kind of cholesterol) and preventing LDL (the “bad” kind of cholesterol) from being oxidized. Oxidized LDL can lead to increased risk of heart disease.
- Carrots – We might have mentioned before that vitamin C is an antioxidant. So it is safe to assume any good source of vitamin C is a good source for antioxidants. But there is more when it comes to carrots. Carrots have two other kinds of antioxidants: carotenoids, which give carrots their yellow and orange colours, and anthocyanins, the culprits behind the red and purple of carrots. These antioxidants can help lower the risk of cancer.
- Strawberries – Easily the most popular kind of berries, they are both delicious and nutritious. Rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants. They have a large amount of anthocyanin, which gives them their bright red colour. Much like cocoa, the antioxidants in strawberries increase HDL cholesterol levels. But they do more than that; strawberries also help reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol, thus helping in your cardiovascular health.
- Beetroots – Mild in taste but rich in nutrients, beetroots are a great source of fibre, potassium, iron, folate and antioxidants. Beetroots particularly are rich in antioxidants called betalains. Betalains have been linked with reduced risk of colon and digestive tract cancer.
- Spinach – It wouldn’t be a stretch to call spinach a Superfood. While it is low in calories, it is jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Antioxidants present in spinach, lutein and zeaxanthin, may protect your eyes from ultraviolet light and other harmful light wavelengths. These antioxidants neutralize the damage free radicals cause to your eyes over time.
Risks of Antioxidant Supplementation
Well since antioxidants are so beneficial for you, taking antioxidant supplements is the obvious pathway besides diet, right? Wrong. Remember, more is not always better. Excessive intake of isolated antioxidants can actually enhance oxidative stress rather than prevent it. In fact, studies have linked a high dosage of antioxidants with an increased risk of death. Some research even suggests that antioxidant supplements can even increase your risk of cancer. Food compounds work synergistically and taking isolated nutrients is not going to be similarly beneficial and in antioxidants’ case, even detrimental. So our advice is to eat antioxidant-rich food and stay away from supplements.