Antioxidants: the free radical fighters
An antioxidant is a substance that stops the oxidation of another substance. We’ve been hearing about them, and things like oxidation and oxidative stress, for a while now, but what actually are they and why do we need them?
Firstly, what is oxidation?
Oxidation is a process in which a substance loses an electron to something else, and is changed by the addition of oxygen. Think of an apple that you have just cut up. If you leave it exposed to the air too long, it will turn brown. The process of oxidation produces free radicals, that can in turn damage cells. Hello inflammation! Oxidation is linked to diseases such as heart disease and some forms of cancer.
Antioxidants are found naturally in many foods, particularly plant-based foods. They can also be in the form of a chemical added to foods to prevent oxidation. Our bodies create some antioxidants to protect us. External antioxidants such as smoke and pollution are the less desired type and ones we need to limit exposure to for good health.
Where do we get them from?
Nutrient antioxidants are found in the form of vitamins A, C and E. Vitamin A in sweet potatoes, vitamin C in oranges and strawberries, and vitamin E in avocados, to name a few. They are also present in minerals such as copper, zinc and selenium. Phytochemicals in plants have particularly high levels of antioxidants. A few that spring to mind are lycopenes in tomatoes, anthocyanins in berries (read more about berries here), the all important flavanols in chocolate and catechins in wine and tea.
Tips for getting the right amount
Getting a range of colours of fruit and vegetables onto your plate is a great place to start. Keep the skin on your fruit and vegetables for an antioxidant boost. Synthetic supplements aren’t said to be beneficial for reducing oxidation, but finding a natural one like this one will help you on your way to fighting oxidative stress on your body.