Antioxidants: function, benefits and sources
By Roy Kim, Oct 25 2014
Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the process of oxidation. Oxidation is a natural process that happens in our bodies, and we see it happen in foods when apple slices and bananas are left out for long; they turn brown. When oxygen is metabolized in our bodies it creates free radicals which are unstable molecules that cause harm or death of our cells by damaging the cellular proteins, lipids or DNA. Once these free radical attack they turn the attacked molecule into a free radical which lead to a chain reaction of free radicals. This chain reaction causes damage that leads to premature aging, and when extensive enough can potentially lead to chronic diseases, cancer or carcinogenic processes. Antioxidants interact by binding to the free radicals and neutralizing them so they can no longer cause any harm.
Mother nature has provided our cells with naturally occurring antioxidants that are equipped to manage the damage of oxidation. However, due to the increasing harmful chemicals in our environment such as pollutants, radiation, smoking, fertilizers and unhealthy diets filled with processed and fatty foods, our bodies may be over-taxed when there is high accumulation of free radicals. If your diet is not balanced then it would be beneficial to look into incorporating the intake of antioxidant rich foods; and if it is balanced then you are probably getting a sufficient amount of antioxidants. Either way, eating fruits and veggies is never a bad idea, because they are one of the main sources rich in antioxidants!
Here are some of the well known antioxidants as well which foods they are most abundant in :
Vitamin E- especially Alpha- tocopherol; it prevent body tissue damage by protecting cell membranes from oxidation.
Sources: Nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils
Vitamin C- this is a water soluble vitamin and it tends to scavenge free radicals in water environments in our bodies.
Sources: Guava, red bell peppers, kiwi, oranges and pineapple
Beta-carotene- this gives fruits and vegetables its rich yellow/orange pigments. It is converted into vitamin A in our bodies but it is also a powerful antioxidant.
Sources: sweet potatoes, carrots, squash,apricots, tangerines, cantaloupe and dark leafy greens
Selenium- this is a trace element and only a small amount is required in our diet but that amount is essential.It is required for the formation of a group of proteins that work as antioxidant enzymes. It also works together with Vitamin E and C as an antioxidant in preventing free radical damage.
Sources: brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, seafood and fish, asparagus and mustard seeds
Manganese & Zinc -these are trace elements that form essential parts of various antioxidants
Sources: Manganese is found in: seafood (mussels), pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts
Zinc is found in seafood (oysters), beef and lamb, toasted wheat germ and spinach
Coenzyme Q10- it is an antioxidant that is synthesized on our bodies but it can also be found in foods.
Sources: beef, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, plant oils, broccoli and cauliflower
Phytochemicals- you may have heard this term a lot as well as polyphenols and flavonoids. This term is sort of the umbrella term for the various compounds produced by plants that have antioxidant functions.
Sources: Tomatoes, watermelon, kale spinach, collard greens, berries, raspberries, pomegranates, nuts, beans, whole grains….essentially all plant foods.
A diet rich in antioxidants can aid in the prevention of many chronic disease including heart disease, eye diseases, premature aging and cancer. Although our bodies may be equipped with natural antioxidants, it is still important to incorporate foods rich in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables so that we can provide all the energy and essential nutrients for our bodies to function optimally.