Antioxidants have quite a number of health benefits and are a vital part of any diet. They are present in a number of fresh foods and their role is to neutralise the effects of free radicals upon the body.
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are produced as part of everyday life. Even breathing in oxygen is enough to cause the production of free radicals! Normally, the body is able to neutralise these free radicals on its own, but external factors such as pollution, UV radiation, alcohol, and smoking can cause an overload of free radicals that the body is unable to cope with, leading to damage. This damage is a major cause of ageing, and it can contribute to a variety of illnesses. Some examples of the damages that free radicals can cause include:
- inflammation of the joints
- deterioration in the eyes
- accelerating the ageing process
- increasing the risk of heart disease
- damaging the nerve cells in the brain
What Do Antioxidants Do?
Antioxidants help the body to neutralise the free radicals. There are over 4000 compounds present in food that have antioxidant properties. Oxidation in the body produces free radicals which in turn cause oxidative stress within the body. Antioxidants, as their name suggests, are capable of stabilising the free radicals before they cause damage.
As an example of the protective effects of antioxidants, the lycopene in tomatoes may help protect men against prostate cancer, the lutein in spinach and corn may reduce the degeneration of the eye lens, and flavenoids may help to lower the risk of heart disease.
Types of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are found in foods in the form of vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and so on. It is easy to identify antioxidants by the colour of the foods – different coloured foods have different antioxidants so it is important to have a diet that is rich in all food colours to ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of each antioxidant.
As previously mentioned, there are over 4000 compounds that have antioxidant properties. Some of the most commonly known include:
- vitamin C – is found in citrus fruits, blackcurrants, capsicum, and berries
- vitamin E – is found in vegetable oils, avocadoes, nuts, and wholegrains
- beta carotene – is found in pumpkin, and carrots
- selenium – is found in seafood, lean meat, and wholegrains
- anthocyanins – are found in berries, eggplants, and grapes
- catechins – are found in red wine and tea
- flavenoids – are found in tea, citrus fruits, red wine, and apples
- isoflavenoids – are found in soy products, lentils, and milk
- lignans – are found in sesame seeds, bran, vegetables, and wholegrains
- lutein – is found in leafy greens and corn
- lycopene – is found in tomatoes and watermelon
- manganese – is found in lean meat, seafood, milk, and nuts
- polyphenols – are found in thyme and oregano
The foods associated with the antioxidants above are just examples of what foods the associated antioxidants can be found in. Some of the best overall sources of antioxidants are berries, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pomegranates, and ginger. In fact, you could think of these as the “superfoods” of the antioxidant world.