What Are Antioxidants and Why Do You Need Them?
You’ve likely heard of antioxidants before. But what exactly are antioxidants, and why do you need them?
Antioxidants are compounds found naturally in the foods that we eat. Our bodies even make some of them, but today we are going to discuss the ones we need to eat to stay in optimal health. Fruits, vegetables, and even chocolate all contain antioxidants. Some you may have heard by name such as resveratrol found in red wine, or lycopene found in tomatoes. Certain vitamins are also considered antioxidants, such as vitamins E, C and A.
There are thousands of different kinds of antioxidants, many of which you eat every day without even knowing it.
What do antioxidants do in the body?
Antioxidants are part of an internal defence system. They protect our cells and tissues from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
The role of the antioxidant is to stabilize a free radical. Think of it this way: if a free radical was a child running through the grocery store knocking things over and wreaking havoc in the aisles, the antioxidant would be the parent that takes the child’s hand and calms him or her down preventing the store from getting destroyed.
We encounter free radicals in a lot of different ways. Stress, smoking, exercise, and eating processed foods can all create free radicals. Even our bodies produce free radicals internally as a by-product of normal metabolism.
When we have too many free radicals in our body they can damage our cells and tissues. This contributes to diseases like heart disease, cancer and Alzheimers, as well as increased inflammation in the body that accelerates aging.
But free radicals aren’t all bad. They do play an important role in the immune system, often helping to destroy harmful bacteria and viruses by signalling to the immune system that there is a problem. If we have enough antioxidants, that signalling system won’t get out of control and add to the original problem. Good health is all about striking a balance between the amount of free radicals we have in our bodies and the amount of antioxidants there are to protect us.
A diet rich in antioxidants helps to protect against premature aging, reduce inflammation and lower your risk of diseases including cancer and heart disease.
The level of antioxidant protection that a food provides is measured by an ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) score. This score shows how powerful the food is at eliminating free radicals. The higher the score, the more powerful the antioxidant value is. Dark coloured grapes, blueberries, red berries, and dark leafy greens all rank well on the ORAC scale.
Some of the highest ranked foods for example include:
- Goji Berries – 25000 ORAC Score
- Wild Blueberries – 14000 ORAC Score
- Pecans – 17000 ORAC Score
- Dark Chocolate – 21000 ORAC Score
An easy rule of thumb to follow is to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Bright and colorful plant foods are packed with antioxidants. This will help to ensure you eat wide spectrum of different antioxidants.
It’s also important to remember to eat the skin of the plant when possible. Oftentimes the highest amount of antioxidant power is hidden within or just below the bright coloured skins of the plant.
Chew on this
There are thousands of antioxidants found in all different types of plants. They protect you from free radical damage that would otherwise contribute to disease and premature aging.
Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables helps to ensure you eat a diet rich in antioxidants. And don’t forget to eat the skin when possible, it’s often where most of the antioxidant value is found.
What are your favourite antioxidant-rich foods to include in your diet? Share in the comments below.