The benefits of antioxidants

Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
Ask Ali

21 December 2015

Without delving into an in-depth discussion of chemistry, antioxidants essentially prevent damage to important cells. They do this by preventing molecules from reacting to oxygen and becoming highly chemically reactive. Without antioxidants, these potentially dangerous molecules, known as free radicals, have free reign in the body, able to react with and damage anything they encounter, such as DNA. Antioxidants can stop this chain reaction in its tracks. They are essentially your body’s first line of defence, keeping free radicals under control, counteracting their damaging effects and removing them from your bloodstream.

Although the body can produce antioxidants, it also produces far more free radicals. As a result, it is important to incorporate antioxidants into the diet in order to maintain the balance between the two, and prevent degeneration of tissue and damage to important cells in the body.

What are the health benefits of antioxidants?

An explanation about how antioxidants prevent a chain of destructive chemical reactions in the body is all very well, but it is not very clear what benefit this is to the body.

Dietary antioxidant vitamins include vitamins A, C and E, as well as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium. Diets rich in antioxidants have been associated with better:

It is thought that different antioxidants benefit the body in different ways. For example, beta-carotene has been shown to have health benefits for the skin and has also been linked to good eye health. Lycopene is considered to be beneficial for prostate health, including helping to reduce the symptoms of BPH, and vitamin C is a superhero when it comes to your health, boosting your immune system and protecting your heart.

Clearly, with antioxidants benefiting your body and health in so many ways, it is worth finding ways to increase your intake of antioxidants. One of the best ways to do this is to incorporate more antioxidant-rich foods into the diet.

What are the best sources of antioxidants in food?

They best way to introduce antioxidants into your diet is to eat foods which are naturally rich in antioxidants, such as fresh, colourful fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds:

  • Vitamin A rich foods include carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash, mango and dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach
  • Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables but it is highest in strawberries, oranges, papaya, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, kale and broccoli
  • Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds such as almonds, hazelnuts and sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds. Other foods rich in vitamin E include spinach, kale, Swiss chard and avocado
  • Beta-carotene is a provitamin that the body converts into vitamin A. Foods rich in this nutrient are a colourful bunch, including carrots, peppers, sweet potato, pumpkin, beetroot, papayas, apricots, goji berries and kale
  • Lutein is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collard and romaine lettuce. It’s also found in broccoli, courgette, peas and Brussels sprouts
  • Lycopene is an antioxidant primarily found in tomatoes and other foods of similar pigmentation and colour such as  watermelon, papayas, grapefruit, mango and red cabbage
  • Selenium rich foods include Brazil nuts, chia seeds, brown rice, sunflower, sesame and flax seeds, whole wheat bread, mushrooms and whole grains.

Antioxidant rich meals – the 3 S’s

It’s easier than you think to boost your antioxidant intake thanks to three food types – smoothies, soups and salads. An excellent way to add antioxidants quickly and easily into your diet, these three food types combine several fruits and vegetables to make delicious meals. For example you can have an antioxidant-rich smoothie for breakfast, soup for lunch and salad for dinner.

Here are a few delicious recipes which can help you boost your antioxidant intake:

Antioxidant-rich Smoothies
Kale Smoothie
Blueberry & Kiwi Smoothie

Antioxidant-rich Soups
Carrot, Lentil and Coriander Soup
Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Antioxidant-rich Salads
Avocado & Grapefruit Salad
Kale & Cranberry salad

Super sprouts!

Packed full of nutrients and rich in vitamin A and C, sprouts are an excellent way to add extra antioxidants to your meals. Sprinkle them over your salads or garnish your soup with them for some extra goodness and flavour. You can easily grow your own sprouts for a fresh supply of this nutritious food. Sprouting is fun, easy and only takes between 3 and 5 days to grow your own fresh supply of this nutritious food.

Sprouts containing vitamin A & C:

bioSnacky® Mung Bean Sprouts
bioSnacky® Alfalfa Sprouts
bioSnacky® Little Radish Sprouts

Is there anything that can negatively impact antioxidants?

Just as certain foods can give your body an antioxidant boost, other foods can inhibit their action. Refined sugar and simple carbohydrates are likely to lead to the production of more free radicals than antioxidants; distorting the balance between the two in your body again. Thus, cutting down on processed foods can help you to get the best out of your antioxidant rich food.

Excessive exercise can lead to the production of more free radicals than antioxidants, so regular moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming is most likely to be of benefit.

Stress promotes the production of free radicals, so staying calm and relaxed will give the antioxidants a helping hand in the battle against the radicals. While this may sound simple, reducing stress is often easier said than done. However, there are many tips and techniques you can try to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Smoking reduces the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and encourages the build-up of toxins in the body. For this reason, even if you eat plenty of antioxidants, smoking will make it difficult for your body to extract and absorb them. Additionally, each cigarette uses up about 25mg of the body’s resource of vitamin C, quickly depleting our body of antioxidants.

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