Antioxidants, sometimes called “free radical scavengers” are substances that protect the body against free radical damage. The body needs free radicals to kill bacteria. But too much free radical in the body can be dangerous. This is where antioxidants come into the picture. They act like an army, keeping free radicals in check. When there’s too much of them, the antioxidants scavenge the excessive amounts to maintain homeostasis in the body.
Free radicals don’t come from external sources. Our bodies produce them during normal metabolic processes. Even the simple act of breathing can produce these unstable and harmful molecules. The presence of free radicals can alter the balance or homeostasis in the body. When the body is exposed to external compounds, like pollutants, chemicals, and other environmental agents, the body produces free radicals as a normal reaction.
Inflammation is also another reason why the body produces free radicals. The body’s inability to get rid of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress, which is harmful to the cells and body functions. This is why the body needs antioxidants. Without it, the body can slowly die from the inside.
Factors that increase the production of free radicals:
- UV exposure
- Smoking and cigarette smoke exposure
- Excessive exercise
- Consumption of refined and processed foods, fats, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners
- Dyes and additives
All of the above factors can result in oxidative stress. Oxidative stress could lead to the following health problems:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory diseases
- Immune deficiency
- Parkinson’s disease
- Vision loss
Types of Antioxidants
With this constant attack of oxidative stress and serious health condition risks, the body needs enough protection to stay healthy and functioning well. Thankfully, antioxidants are here to fight damages caused by free radicals.
Another good thing is, the body has the ability to produce its own antioxidants, known as endogenous antioxidants, the most powerful free radical fighters of all. There are five types of these endogenous antioxidants but the most important types are superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase or Gpx because the body is able to produce them despite the presence of free radicals in the body.
These three work together in neutralizing these free radicals. The other type, alpha lipoic acid, recycles and regenerates the external or exogenous antioxidants. Additionally, Gpx helps repair DNA damage on a cellular level and slows down aging. But as you grow older, your body’s ability to produce endogenous antioxidants decreases.
Other health conditions can also decrease endogenous antioxidants production. These include cancer, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, and HIV. There’s no need to panic though if your body loses its ability to produce its own antioxidants. You still can have them from external sources, such as certain types of fruits, vegetables, and dairy.
Antioxidants derived from external sources are called exogenous antioxidants. While there are five types of endogenous antioxidants, the exogenous types come in a thousand substances. Interestingly, each of these substances has a specific role to play. That’s why eating a wide array of plant-based antioxidants is a rule of thumb every individual should follow. The most common type of antioxidants derived from external sources include the following:
The brightly colored fruits and veggies belong to this type. They include carrots, peas, spinach, mangoes, apricots, asparagus, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, chives, dandelion leaves, and grapefruit.
Plant sources with a high concentration of this substance include fresh tea leaves, broad beans, black grapes, apricots, and strawberries. It’s also found in red wine and chocolates.
The best dietary sources of flavonoids are tea, citrus fruits, berries, apples, and legumes. Another important source is red wine.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
The best sources are green leafy vegetables and some yellow vegetables and fruits, like corn, papaya, kale, spinach, and oranges.
The top sources are pink and red fruits and veggies, such as tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava.
Plants rich in this substance are garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas.
You can get phytoestrogens from soybeans, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, wheat berries, fenugreek, oats, and barley.
Plant-based sources are cloves, cocoa powder, berries, beans, nuts, and soy. Dark chocolate is also rich in polyphenols.
You can get selenium from plant-based sources like rice, corn, wheat and other grains, nuts, and legumes. Other sources are eggs and cheese.
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamin A. other sources include cod liver oil, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals and skim milk, and other dairy products.
This vitamin is found in most fruits and vegetables, like berries, oranges, kiwi, potatoes, broccoli, and bell peppers.
Foods rich in this vitamin include nuts and seeds, sunflower, leafy greens, avocado, wheat germ, and vegetable oil.
Benefits of Antioxidants
As stated earlier, antioxidants have a specific role to play in keeping the body’s overall health. The most benefit your body can get from antioxidants is your heart health. Antioxidants like beta carotene and Vitamin A and C help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by reducing LDL oxidation, which reduces the risk of plaque buildup and rupture.
While you derive most benefits from these antioxidants in its raw form, it does not always come easy. Work and other hustles of life may prevent you from doing so. This is the reason why others prefer handy but unhealthy foods.
Adding Antioxidants in your Diet
Munch on nuts
For convenience’s sake, healthy eating becomes less practiced. You can try to eat healthy by making simple tweaks in your diet. Instead of grabbing junk or processed foods for snacks, you can replace them with healthy nuts. Some of these nuts are packed for convenience and can even be put inside your bag. While watching your favorite TV series or browsing your feed, put these healthy nuts in a bowl and pop them in your mouth every now and then.
Add the green, leafy veggies in your dishes in small amounts if you’re not a fan of them. You can also find for delicious recipes where these veggies can turn into yummy servings.
Add berries to smoothies
Add berries to your favorite smoothies and have a glass of festive antioxidant smoothie.
Stone fruits like apricots and peaches are healthy snack alternatives. Prepare a bowl of them when you’re at home, or you can bring some at work.
Grab the cup
If you’re a fan of coffee and tea, taking in antioxidants regularly is no problem for you. Just don’t overdo it and aim for not more than three cups a day.
Cloves are a regular addition to most dishes. Having them daily would be effortless too.
Grab a bar of chocolate
Some dieters avoid chocolate to prevent weight gain. Whether on a strict diet or not, sugar-free dark chocolate is safe to eat.
If you prefer a colored drink, aim for a glass of a freshly squeezed grape or orange juice. They’re tastier and the best alternative to canned juices.
If all of the above doesn’t work well, a glass of red wine will do it. But then, because antioxidants work differently, including a variety of them in your diet is the best diet plan to follow for a healthier you.