The word “antioxidant,” is thrown around quite a lot, but few of us actually know what they are, and how they work.
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental and other pressures. Free radicals are waste substances produced by cells as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result, which harms the body1. Antioxidants are known to help neutralize free radicals in our bodies.
Where do antioxidants come from?
In terms of sources of antioxidants, there are only two sources to speak of. Antioxidants are either found in some plant-based foods, which are called phytonutrients, or either they are produced by our bodies. An example of some antioxidants that are produced by the body, and can also be supplemented in pill form, would be vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, selenium, and manganese. And flavonoids, flavones, catechins, polyphenols, and phytoestrogens are all types of antioxidants that can be found in plant-based foods.
What is oxidative stress
Part of fully understanding antioxidants and their role in our bodies is also understanding what oxidative stress is. Oxidative stress, which is a normal part of the aging process, is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage. The body’s cells produce free radicals during normal metabolic processes. However, cells also produce antioxidants that neutralize these free radicals. Usually, the body is able to maintain a balance between antioxidants and free radicals. But when there is an imbalance, like when the body produces too many free radicals, say, this can cause oxidative stress. It is the job of antioxidants to neutralize or ‘mop up’ these extra free radicals that can harm our cells. Your body’s ability to produce antioxidants is controlled by your genetic makeup and influenced by your exposure to environmental factors, like diet and smoking3. Our modern lifestyles, which include more environmental pollution and less quality foods in our diets, means that we are exposed to more free radicals now than ever before.
Interestingly, your body’s internal production of antioxidants may not be enough to neutralize all of these free radicals. So one way you can help your body to defend itself, is by increasing your dietary intake of antioxidants4. We briefly mentioned a few sources of antioxidants earlier, but we are going to elaborate a little, and talk about some antioxidant-rich foods you can easily incorporate into your diet.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain a pigment called lycopene, which is responsible for a tomatoes’ red color. As it turns out, this pigment is also a powerful antioxidant. Tomatoes, in all their forms (including canned tomatoes/tomato juice/tomato soup) are a major source of lycopene. Yes, this even includes ketchup! (But keep it limited due to the added sugars).
Citrus fruits: Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes all possess lot’s of natural substances that are important for disease protection, like carotenoids, and flavonoids (types of antioxidants). As a side note, it is always better to eat these fruits in their natural form, because some of the potency is lost when the juice is extracted.
Tea: Black tea, green tea, and even oolong tea all have antioxidant properties, though the most potent source of antioxidants is in green tea, since it has the most catechins (type of antioxidant).
In addition to these antioxidant-rich foods, another way to up your intake of antioxidants is through a powdered green drink mix. This is a quick and easy way to give your antioxidant levels a boost, and is very simple, since you can just pour a powdered greens blend into a bottle of water, shake or stir and get going! We recommend looking for one that contains ingredients like natural grasses (barley grass and wheatgrass), ancient grains, spirulina, chlorella, kelp, and other superfoods, with no added sugar or artificial flavors. Superfood greens can not only give you a boost of antioxidants, but can also support a healthy immune function.
Protect your body from the inside out, and try adding these antioxidant foods, as well as a quality powdered green drink mix, to your diet today!
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.