These days most plant foods or organic medications claims to contain antioxidants. It sounds good, but do you know what it does? It is good to understand why we need antioxidants and how it works in our bodies to make the right changes in our diets.
It is also one of the most researched topics in food science and there is still much more to discover.
When our food is broken down in our digestive system or while we exercise, our body produces free radicals. Free radicals are also increased in our body if we are exposed to smoking, air pollution and sunlight. Free radicals cause oxidative stress that leads to diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and can reduce the elasticity of your skin. (1,2,3).
Oxidative stress is a complicated process, but I am going to simplify it. All things on earth, including our bodies, are made of atoms. Atoms contains electrons. If an atom has an uneven amount of electrons, it is unstable. A free radical is an unstable molecule and can be seen as someone who wants to pick a fight to get an electron. Too many free radicals will cause trouble and take the electrons from our cells (oxidative stress). Our body cells are damaged and becomes unstable and if this happens persistently, it increases your risk for the diseases mentioned previously. Though a balanced amount of free radicals is also needed for some metabolic processes and fighting diseases in our bodies (1).
Antioxidants are stable molecules and can lend out their electrons to prevent the free radicals from damaging the cell. They can be called the peace makers. If there are enough peace makers, there will be less “fights” and less cell damage. So in the end, a good balance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body is vital (1). You can’t always control the free radicals produced in your body or your environment, but you can adapt you diet for a sufficient intake of antioxidants.
Antioxidants in the diet
The best sources for antioxidants is fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, legumes, especially those high in vitamin A, C and E, selenium, copper, zinc, selenium, and manganese (2,3). Some examples will be carrots, berries, oranges, broccoli, flax seeds, cashew nuts, turmeric etc. This indicates again the importance of having a well-balanced diet to ensure an optimal healthy life.
It is not necessary to use supplements if you eat a good variety of the previous mentioned food groups. Supplements are mostly recommended to people who are at a high risk for nutrient deficiencies. For example, smokers need more vitamin C, Vegans needs a higher dose of B12 and so on (3).
Increase your fruit and vegetables to at least 5 portions a day, add some spices and herbs to your food instead of sauces, change your refined carbs to whole wheat carbs and add some lentils to you rice. Making these changes will lower the necessity for any supplements and decrease the risk for chronic diseases.
- Abdel-Daim, M. M. et al., 2018. Aging, Metabolic, and Degenerative Disorders: Biomedical Value of Antioxidants. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2018/2098123/
- Madiseh, R. M. et al., 2016. The research and development on the antioxidants in prevention of diabetic complications. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, 9 (9), pp. 825-831. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1995764516301389
- Mahan, L. K. & Raymond, J. L., 2017. Krause’s Food & The Nutrition Care Process. 14th ed. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier.