What are antioxidants and where to find them?
We often hear different nutritional professionals, magazines and websites talk about the essential role of antioxidants, how they are important to us and how we need to fill our diets with them. With so much emphasis placed on our need for them, we never see ‘antioxidants’ listed on the back of the package or box as an ingredient or as part of the nutritional breakdown. Without seeing if a food or drink contains antioxidants, it can be difficult to find what foods contain them. We might be trying to find antioxidant-rich foods in the supermarket and find it difficult, but is it really worth the effort? Do we really need antioxidants, or is it another part of the diet designed to help sales or organic and foreign foods? Those questions are answered here our guide of antioxidants …
What are antioxidants?
The first question you should answer before finding what foods are rich in antioxidants is what they are. For the answer to this, you should look at your biochemistry. Your body is a chemistry that walks, talks and thinks inside a layer of skin. All the time their cells are facilitating chemical reactions, creating energy, producing enzymes, building new cells and sending nerve impulses. All this activity has chemical side effects, and one of them is oxidation. This process occurs in the cells, where as we create energy and our cells function and causes the creation of free radicals. Free radicals are atoms and molecules that lack electrons, which makes them travel around the body to find some. This can cause damage to body tissues. As such, we take products in our diet that can eliminate these free radicals before they can harm us. It is these products that we call antioxidants.
More about free radicals
Free radicals are natural and we cannot escape some of their effects. Your body constantly creates them in cells, and our daily lives align to collect much more from the environment. The sun, smoking, alcohol, pollutants and many other things send ions all the time and enter the body. It is a fact of life that you will interact with free radicals, in fact, if you did not, you would cease to be. The effects of free radicals are not exact, as ions will move throughout the body to find electrons to bind with. This means that they can affect any of the cells in your body, but there is no need to worry too much. We have our built-in systems to defend against free radicals, although our knowledge of nutrition means that we are now very aware of this and how we can help you.
What can free radicals do?
Free radicals have the effect of damaging the body. This is a natural process and is what causes part of your overall aging process. This cannot be avoided, and you have to get used to it. However, there is evidence of some more sinister effects of free radicals that suggest they could cause:
- Impaired brain function.
- Reduced immune system function
- Heart disease
It should be noted that these effects are only suggested and have not been confirmed by any medical study as a direct cause, since there are always a number of factors involved in such diseases. However, antioxidants can help reduce the potential impact.
How do antioxidants work?
We take antioxidants in our diet, and they perform the role or eliminate free radicals. They do this by breaking the chain of reactions caused by the taking of electrons by providing new electrons, or antioxidant enzymes alter the reactions and cause them to stabilize. The process is not as accurate, and like medicines, not all work on all free radicals. As such, we need to include a variety of them in our diets.
What are antioxidants?
‘Antioxidants’ is just the term for the group of vitamins, minerals and chemicals that reduce the amount of free radicals. The main types of antioxidants are vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin C and vitamin E, as well as minerals such as selenium, manganese and zinc. Vitamin E and A are fat soluble, which means they travel in fat. As such, having fats in your diet is essential, and you should never skip them. Vitamin C and beta-carotene are soluble in water, so you should take them regularly as they are excreted daily. Selenium, manganese and zinc are trace elements that are important for creating antioxidant enzymes that are separated by vitamin E, C and beta-carotene.
Do I need all antioxidants?
The answer is yes, in parts. You must have the correct amount of each of the antioxidants to ensure the elimination of free radicals of good quality. There is too much, particularly with vitamin E, as it is fat soluble and is stored in the body. This means that you may have too much and can nullify the potential benefits. A balanced diet of high quality should mean that you will never have to take supplements and should be able to access a good amount of nutrients to protect yourself from free radicals and have better overall nutritional health.
Where can I get antioxidants?
There are a number of natural sources of each of the antioxidants, some of which are highlighted below. There are many more sources, so always check your packages to see what is in the different foods.
Vitamin E: vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocado, liver, green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C: potatoes, citrus, green vegetables, tomatoes, broccoli.
Beta carotene: mango, peppers, carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes, squash.
Selenium – Meat, whole wheat products, Brazil nuts.
Zinc: dark chocolate, cocoa, meats, seafood, eggs, whole grain products.
Manganese: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tea.
All the evidence of antioxidants is not yet available, but certainly, the protection it provides against free radicals is excellent. The foods you can eat are very varied and you may already get many antioxidants without knowing it.