Ok, before we get onto antioxidants we need to discuss what oxidants are, how our body produces them and why they can be harmful.
I’m going to get a bit sciency here so fair warning.
Oxidants are compounds (including oxygen itself) that oxidise other compounds. These are produced naturally within our bodies as a normal function in cell metabolism. Oxidation is the process of a substance combining with oxygen. This reaction involves the loss of electrons. While we exercise, eat or even sleep our body continues the oxidation process. This results in the production of free radicals. Now, free radicals are not the enemy, they help in fighting off pathogens which can lead to infection. We are also exposed to free radicals in our environment. Pollution, radiation, ozone, cigarette smoke and some pesticides and cleaning products are sources of free radicals. The issue with free radicals is if they are not kept in check oxidative stress can occur.
Are you still with me?
So, what is Oxidative Stress you ask? This is where the importance of antioxidants comes in. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants within our bodies. When there are more free radicals than antioxidants, free radicals can start reaping havoc by damaging proteins, fatty tissue and DNA. Over time this can lead to inflammation, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, hardening of blood vessels and even ramps up the aging process. We can’t completely avoid the formation of free radicals or oxidative stress but there are things we can do to minimize the effects this has on our bodies.
Now let’s talk Antioxidants.
Antioxidants are electron donors and have the amazing ability to donate electrons to free radicals without becoming unstable themselves. This results in the stabilization of the free radicals making them less reactive.
The easiest way to manage oxidative stress and minimize its effects on your body is through the consumption of antioxidants in your diet. These are foods high in Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Beta-carotene (Vitamin A). Including a wide variety of colourful plant foods is the best place to start.
- Citrus fruits and berries
- Rockmelon and papaya
- Dark leafy greens
- Vegetables including carrots, broccoli and sweet potatoes
- Fish and nuts
- Onion and garlic
- Spices including turmeric and cinnamon
- Green Tea
Healthy lifestyle choices are also beneficial in the prevention of oxidative stress. These include:
- Avoiding overeating and consumption of refined sugars
- Quit smoking and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke
- Limit or decrease intake of alcohol
- Get sufficient sleep
- Be wary of using chemical cleaning products
- Eat organic where possible (decreases intake of pesticides and fungicides)
- Wash fruit and vegetables before cooking or eating
- Wear sunscreen
Hopefully this has given you a better understanding of antioxidants. So, before you go out and spend your hard-earned money on pills and potions claiming to be the next antioxidant sensation, trust in the knowledge that nature has kindly provided us with everything we need.