What is an Antioxidant and Why Are they Important?

WHAT IS AN ANTIOXIDANT AND WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT

An antioxidant is a compound that helps the body fight oxidation, which is a normal and inevitable chemical process that takes place in the body every day. When there are disruptions in the body’s natural oxidation process, unstable and damaging molecules called free radicals are created. If left uncontrolled, free radicals can cause damage to cells in the body. This oxidation can be fast-tracked by unhealthy lifestyle choices, stress, cigarette smoking, and alcohol, to name a few.

Thankfully, antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals and thus prevent further damage to the body. They act by donating electrons to free radicals, which can stabilize them. They can also neutralize free radicals, making them harmless and unable to cause further damage. Regardless of how they fight the free radicals, antioxidants play a significant role in keeping our cells and our bodies healthy.

There is continuous research in the role that oxidative stress plays in disease development and aging, and studies show that antioxidants provide a protective stance against diseases such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Oxidative stress is also responsible for premature aging of the skin.

How the Body Defends Against Oxidative Stress

The human body has an amazing mechanism to fight free radical damage or oxidative stress. The body can create its antioxidants in the form of molecules that will neutralize the free radicals and stop the chain of bad reactions before damage is done to the cells. While our bodies are very efficient at scavenging for free radicals, eating healthy, antioxidant rich foods will greatly assist in this.

Examples of Antioxidants

Carotenoids:

Carotenoids are free-radical fighting antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. They are found in deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, beets, spinach, sweet potatoes, kale and collard greens. Carotenoids are found to have anti-aging and anti-cancer properties, as well as immune enhancing properties.

Flavonoids:

The flavonoid group is a nutrient group that is famous not only for it’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits but for its contribution of vibrant color to the foods we eat – think of the vibrant red of raspberries or the deep blue of blueberries – all thanks to the color enhancing properties of flavonoids. Flavonoids have been known to assist with our cardiovascular and nervous systems, and for supporting detoxification in the body. Flavonoids can be found not only in raspberries and blueberries, but also apples, pears, black beans, grapes, green tea, and much much more.

Isothiocyanates:

An isothiocyanate describes the chemical group contained in some phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. While toxic in large quantities, there is evidence that isothiocyanates have anti-cancer and antioxidant properties in the above-listed foods.

Resveratrol:

This antioxidant’s health benefits will make wine connoisseurs happy, as resveratrol is the main antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes. Resveratrol is a key ingredient in red wine and helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevents blood clots.

As you can see from the list above, keeping your diet rich in fruits and veggies, especially the ones that have deep, dark and vibrant colors, can be the key to good health. If you keep your stress levels low, ensure you are eating a balanced diet, and be cognizant of the antioxidant values of the foods you are consuming, you should lead a healthy vibrant life.

Another tip is to add green tea to your diet, which has been found to contain a high level of antioxidant as well.

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