What are antioxidants?
The vast majority of life depends on oxygen for its existence. Paradoxically, oxygen is a highly reactive molecule that damages living organisms by producing reactive oxygen species known as free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Consequently, organisms contain a complex network of antioxidant metabolites and enzymes that work together to prevent oxidation damage to cellular components like DNA, proteins and lipids.
In general, antioxidant systems either prevent these reactive species from being formed, or remove them before they can damage vital components of the cell. However, since reactive oxygen species do have some useful functions in cells, the function of antioxidant systems is not to remove oxidants entirely, but instead to keep them at an optimum level.
A recent study conducted by researchers from London found that 5 servings of fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of stroke by 25 percent. Antioxidants may also enhance immune defense and therefore lower the risk of cancer and infection.
Antioxidant substances include:
What foods should I be eating to increase my intake of antioxidants?
- Vitamin A and Carotenoids:
- Bright-colored fruits and vegetables including: carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots
- Vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits like oranges, limes etc; green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and tomatoes
- Vitamin E:
- Nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oil, liver oil
- Dark green vegetables – kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach
- Tomato and tomato products, pink grapefruit, watermelon
- Fish & shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic
Take home message
Antioxidants are found abundantly in beans, grains, fruits and vegetables. Try to eat fruits that are brightly coloured and dark, leafy vegetables. It’s best to get your antioxidants from foods instead of supplements, and try to minimize your exposure to oxidation stress like a nutrient poor diet, sunburns, smoking and pollution.