Antioxidants are mentioned a lot, especially in association with fruits and it is advised to eat foods rich with antioxidants in order to improve our overall health. However, besides the beneficial effect on our health, majority of people didn’t get to know much about antioxidants and it is mostly because they aren’t able to come across the article about them on the websites they usually visit. The purpose of this article is to provide useful information about antioxidants and their effects.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are natural or man-made substances whose purpose is to prevent and protect our body from cell damage. They are found in many types of food, but the biggest sources of antioxidants can be found in vegetables and fruits. Antioxidant supplements are also available as well.
Free Radicals and their Harmful Effects
Free radical is defined as an atom or molecule that contains at least one unpaired electron which makes it reactive to other atoms or molecules in the group. When free radicals combine and interfere with other chemicals in our body they disrupt the ability of cells to function adequately.
Our body is prepared to deal with certain level of free radicals, however, if they produce excessive damage then severe illnesses can occur or damage in the body that our organism isn’t able to repair.
The most important cause of free radicals in our body is poor diet e.g. sugary and fatty foods and drinks, junk food, processed foods etc. Unhealthy lifestyle leads to production of free radicals e.g. smoking, alcohol consumption etc.
Free radicals speed up the aging process due to body cell decomposition; they are also associated with heart-related problems as well as cancer. Due to the fact that free radicals cause our body cells to decompose, they can also lead to muscle cells degeneration.
Antioxidants Neutralize Free Radicals
The best way to prevent the production of free radical and cause of excessive damage in our body is to maintain the healthy level of antioxidants. The most important characteristic of antioxidant is in the fact that it protects our body made by harmful free radical molecules. Our body produces itself free radicals and antioxidants. However, the number of free radicals is higher than number of antioxidants which is why it is of extreme importance to eat antioxidant-rich foods.
Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals in two different ways:
- They provide the extra electron in order to make the pair.
- They break down free radical molecules to decrease their harmful effects.
Antioxidants break the chain of reaction that comes with free radicals and they benefit our health at the same time.
Health Benefits of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are beneficial for our health and some of their health benefits include:
- Improving eye health
- Prostate health
- They improve heart health and prevent from some heart-related diseases
- Urinary tract health
- They improve skin’s health and can provide the elasticity
- Boost our immune system
- Boost memory
- Improve our mood.
Types of Antioxidants
There are three main types of antioxidants:
- Antioxidant enzymes usually come from minerals and proteins that are part of our daily diet. The enzymes are synthesized in our body and they include catalase (enzyme found in all living organisms), glutathione reductase (protects hemoglobin, red blood enzymes), glutathione peroxidase (protects from oxidative damage) and superoxide dismutase or SOD (repairs cells and reduces the damage caused by superoxide which is the most common free radical in our body). Enzymes repair oxidized DNA, destroy oxidized lipids, and degrade oxidized proteins.
- Antioxidant vitamins aren’t produced naturally by our body and it is very important to include them into our diet. The most frequent antioxidant vitamins are vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene and folic acid.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant and usually comes from animal sources and it is beneficial for bone health, vision, reproduction, immune system, and cell functions.
Vitamin C is the most important Vitamin and it is recommended to include it into your diet. It is important for the skin health, immunity, bone health and connective tissue. Vitamin C “works” together with Vitamin E to fight free radicals and protect our body. Vitamin E is antioxidant which plays an important role in metabolic processes and immune system. Selenium is the mineral which reduces the chances of getting prostate cancer. Folic acid is good for maintaining blood health and decreases incidence of birth defects and that is why it is recommended to take it during the pregnancy. Beta-carotene is just the precursor of Vitamin A i.e. our body transforms the beta-carotene substances into the Vitamin A. It maintains healthy skin and improves the immune system.
- Antioxidant phytochemicals are usually used by plants in order to protect themselves from free radicals. Some studies revealed that people who include phytochemicals into their diet also benefit from antioxidant purposes they offer. We can categorize phytochemicals into carotenoids (decrease the risk of cancer and eye diseases), flavonoids (they have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory purposes), allyl sulfides (antiviral and antifungal agent), polyphenols (prevent cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart diseases).
- Vegetables – Most vegetables you eat every day are rich with phytochemicals (especially green leafy vegetables). The best way to retain the value of green leafy vegetables and get the most out of antioxidants in vegetables it is best to eat them raw. Good vegetable sources of antioxidants are: lettuce, broccoli, spinach, beans, sweet potato, carrots, squash, and orange vegetables.
- Fruits – Are the most popular source of antioxidants. Fresh berries e.g. blueberries, cranberries, blackberries and raspberries are the most antioxidant fruits and food types in general that you can consume. Also, good fruit sources of antioxidants are grapes, prunes, citrus fruits, watermelons, strawberries, apples, plums etc. Together with antioxidants, fruits (and vegetables of course) contain important vitamins and minerals that are important for the overall health and should be consumed fresh.
- Nuts – These antioxidants can improve your heart health and the overall health as well. Good nut sources of antioxidants are hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts.
- Herbs and spices – They are considered as the abundant sources of antioxidants and they also have a lot of anti-cancer benefits. You can find good antioxidants’ level in these herbs and spices: garlic, ginger, oregano, turmeric, cinnamon, ground cloves. Naturally, you should always strive to use fresh herbs and spices as they are more beneficial for your health than powdered ones.
- Green tea – This is, besides water, the healthiest drink you can make. It is rich with antioxidants and has numerous health benefits. It lowers the risk of stroke and heart attack, high cholesterol, glaucoma etc.
- Fish – Can be a great source of antioxidants as well. It is needless to mention that fish is rich with Omega 3 fatty acids that are essential for the proper function of our body, e.g. tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, herring, etc.
- Broccoli – It is considered as the superfood and for a good reason. It is rich with antioxidants, and has a high level of fibers.
- Apricots – They are usually ignored and left out of the list of fruits that you should eat. Apricots contain Vitamin A and Vitamin C which make them beneficial for your health.
- Cherries – Berries are often associated with fruits with the highest antioxidants level, but cherries are ranked very close as well.
- Artichokes – Are also rich with antioxidants and in order to retain their nutritional value try grilling them, if you’re cooking your artichokes, make sure you don’t overcook.
- Oranges – The favorite fruit to many people and extremely healthy as well. They are rich with Vitamin C which boosts your immune system.
- Lentils – Are also ignored but are healthy. Lentils are rich with antioxidants. However, even though you can buy canned lentils it is always better to purchase them raw and cook them in your own kitchen.
- Corn – Who doesn’t love corn? But many people don’t know that corn is actually rich with antioxidants and it is usually listed in the carbs lists and lists of crops that you should avoid. However, according to experts it’s all in moderation and you should definitely consider eating corn from time to time.
- Grapefruit – Is a great diet food and rich with antioxidants that your body needs. Additionally, grapefruit is also low in calories and sugar, but packed with Vitamin C at the same time.
- Peaches – Have antioxidants that come in form of selenium and phenol. Moreover, this fruit makes you feel full which makes it ideal choice for diets.
- Kale – Is rich with fibers and antioxidants, and contains a lot of proteins as well. If you need more reasons to include kale into your diet, then it should be noted it is rich with Vitamin C and Vitamin A.
- Apples – Well, apple a day keeps doctor away. And it turns out it is true. Along with their other health benefits, apples contain antioxidants as well.
- Tomatoes – Is recommended to eat due to high level of lycopene. It is an antioxidant that prevents heart disease and diabetes.
- Just like medications, these supplements can cause allergic reactions, various side effects, or interfere with other medications you already have to take which can lead to some health complications.
- There is no standardized manner of antioxidant supplements’ manufacture process. This means that their functionality, side effects, and whether they will be good for you or not depends on the brand.
- It is also most likely that supplements you purchase in stores are different from supplements used in some studies and researches.
- Long-term effects of dietary supplements aren’t known due to lack of studies that would inspect that.
- Pay attention to the way the food is prepared – e.g. it is recommended not to peel fruits and vegetables because their surface contains the highest level of nutrients, vitamins etc., also you should minimize chopping, don’t overcook, don’t fry etc.
- Color Counts – Different colors also mean different antioxidants and good way to maximize antioxidants intake is to include fruits and vegetables of different colors into your diet. Plus, colors look great on the plate.
- Drink them up – Green tea, black tea, and fruit smoothies are another way to get more antioxidants.
- Spice up your food – As it was mentioned, herbs and spices are rich with antioxidants too.
- Smart snacks – Instead of buying chips when you want to snack, buy walnuts, hazelnuts, or simply eat carrot sticks.
Sources of Antioxidants
The most important sources of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables, but there are also some other types of food where you can find healthy level of antioxidants.
Antioxidants You can’t Miss
As it was mentioned above, our body produces certain level of antioxidants by itself, and in order to fight free radicals we have to consume antioxidant-rich foods. Chances are high that some foods are already part of your diet. For example, you’ve seen that good source of antioxidants is Vitamin A which can come from animal sources. This means that you can consume milk, cheese, butter, eggs, chicken etc.
Other antioxidants you can’t miss include:
Are Antioxidant Supplements Safe?
Antioxidants are usually taken via diet, but there are also antioxidant supplements. However, until more thorough researches are conducted it is best to get the much-needed antioxidants from your diet.
According to experts, taking high dosages of antioxidant supplements can be harmful and worsen your health.
Additionally, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States, doesn’t regulate medications and dietary supplements in the same way. This means that dietary supplements can often be sold with limited or without any research at all that would confirm their benefits or possible harmful effects on one’s body.
On the other hand, if you want to take antioxidant supplements then you should consult your doctor first and see what he or she will recommend. Also, when it comes to antioxidant supplements, you should bear in mind this:
How to Maximize Antioxidants Intake?
If you want to improve your overall health, then antioxidant-rich foods are a good way to do it. You can maximize your antioxidants intake in several ways:
Antioxidants protect our body from free radicals that cause cell damage. Even though our body can produce some antioxidants, in order to improve the health we need to consume antioxidant rich food.