You must have heard the word antioxidants thrown around literally everywhere. Additionally, you might have also heard of the term “superfoods” in relation to foods rich in antioxidants. For the most part, most foods that are supposed to be good for you have antioxidants. From boosting immunity to playing a part in making your skin glow, antioxidants are nothing but miracle substances. Yet somehow, it doesn’t always really come to limelight.
Have you ever wondered what these miracle substances are? We’ll be happy to enlighten you!
What Are Antioxidants And What Do They Do?
Let us simplify this for you – antioxidants are substances or molecules that delay or stop the process of oxidation. Why is stopping oxidation important? That’s because this chemical process is responsible for producing free radicals that in turn lead to the damage of numerous organ cells. If the level of free radicals in your body rises, it can cause great harm.
Let’s break it down – high levels of free radicals are harmful, because they give rise to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress in turn has been linked to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular illnesses, Parkinson’s, arthritis, and respiratory diseases. Scary right?
How do the levels of free radicals rise? The answer is numerous external factors such as pollution, high amounts of UV exposure, smoking, radiation, or internal factors like inflammation. Thus, in order to build a defense against growing free radical levels, your body produces its own antioxidants.
You should note that free radicals are important for your body too. Think of it as a tug of war between free radicals and antioxidants. The problem arises when free radical levels rise higher than that of antioxidants in your body. The balance has to be maintained between the two for optimal functioning. There are certain antioxidants that also serve other functions. For example, curcuminoids found in turmeric also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Where Do Antioxidants Come From?
As you have read above, antioxidants aid in keeping free radical levels in your body in check. Not only are they produced by your body, but they’re also produced by whole plants and animals alike. How? Like us humans, both plants and animals need to keep their defenses up against free radicals that are present in their bodies too!
This in turn means that when you consume fruits or vegetables, you also consume antioxidants. However, not all fruits and meat products will have high levels of antioxidants. At the same time, not all antioxidant types are really useful for your body. For example, both vitamin C and E are important antioxidants and you are always encouraged to consume foods that are high in both these vitamins.
Have you ever thought of this – when you watch a lifestyle video or come across an advertisement for great skin, you will always hear the mention of antioxidants? Not only that, but you will also hear the molecule being mentioned with respect to drinking green tea or adding berries to your smoothies. The reason is simple – both green tea and berries have a high amount of antioxidants. Other foods that you can consume that have a higher amount of antioxidants include dark chocolate, red wine, and black tea.
Getting overwhelmed with information? If you want a concise list of foods high in antioxidants, you can read it right here. The following list has been given by the American Dietetic Association:
Fruits (fresh and dry): Fresh fruits high in antioxidant content include berries (raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, goji berries), oranges, guavas, papaya, figs, tomatoes, pears, mangoes, cantaloupes red grapes and red currants.
The antioxidant content is higher in dried fruits as compared to fresh fruits. With their water drained, you can consume dried dates, peaches, figs, raisins, plums, pears and even dried apples.
Vegetables: With respect to vegetables, those high in antioxidants include avocados, broccoli, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, cabbage, beetroot, potatoes, radish, squash, kale, green peas, artichoke, lettuce and spinach.
Nuts: You will find antioxidants in almonds, pistachios, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and cashews.
Spices/Herbs: You read that right – spices and herbs can also have antioxidants. Some of these include cinnamon, paprika, cumin, oregano, turmeric, curry powder, red chili powder and cardamom. Herbs like sage, peppermint, thyme, basil, marjoram, savory, and tarragon also have a high amount of antioxidants.
Cereals: Antioxidant content is high in breakfast cereals that are whole grain. Examples of these are oats, maize, barley, and millet.
What About Antioxidant Supplements?
You might not know this, but consuming antioxidants on a large scale can do more harm than good. Additionally, isolated consumption like taking high dosage supplements can actually encourage the process of oxidation rather than preventing it. Known as the “antioxidant paradox”, studies have shown that when subjects or patients were given high amounts of dietary antioxidant supplements, the result was counterproductive. This means that it did not help prevent the increase of free radicals.
So if you wish to take high doses of antioxidant supplements, we suggest you always consult your doctor first. It’s best to consume the antioxidants that are present naturally in food rather than opting for supplements.
You now know the basis of what antioxidants are and what they do. All the same, you might have heard of statements proposing that antioxidants help in slowing down the process of aging, giving you better vision, and even helping curb cancer. While studies have shown that consuming foods rich in antioxidants have high benefits, you must note another important fact. Anything consumed in excess is harmful and antioxidants are a part of that. So, make foods rich in antioxidants a part of your diet, but be careful to not overdo it.