Antioxidants are man-made or naturally occurring compounds that prevent or delay cell damage. Antioxidants role within the body is to combat free radicals (free radicals can be thought of as a tornado that leaves a path of destruction). Accumulation of free radicals is called oxidative stress. Every living organism that utilizes oxygen produces free radicals as a by-product. Additionally, free radicals can be a result of the environment such as pollution, poor diet, aging, and exposure to toxic chemicals.
Free radicals are unstable atoms that are missing an electron, to stabilize itself they steal electrons from proteins, DNA, mitochondria, or other cells within the body. When this exchange of electrons occurs a path of destruction is left, this can be known as oxidation. The simplest way to think about oxidation is cutting an apple and coming back a few hours later. The apple is browning due to oxidation. If free radical accumulation is higher than normal then damage occurs faster resulting in; greater chances of cancer, heart disease, accelerated aging, and increased inflammation within the body to name a few.
Chances are you’ve seen a commercial or an ad that promises to combat aging with antioxidants. Antioxidants are searching for free radicals within the body to donate an available electron. The more antioxidants within the body, the better chance your body has of fighting oxidative stress. The thing that makes antioxidants unique is that they can donate electrons without becoming free radicals themselves.
Generally, it’s preferred that antioxidant sources come from nutrient dense foods. Of course, there are exceptions! But, when antioxidants come from nutrient dense foods, your body is receiving so many additional key nutrients that benefit the body!
- Berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
- Dark green veggies – spinach, kale, swiss chard, broccoli, collards, etc
- Orange veggies – sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, carrots, orange bell peppers
- Tea – especially green tea!
- Nuts – especially English walnuts (Tons of Omega 3!)
- Fish – especially oily fish – salmon, tuna, wild rainbow trout, herring (Again tons of Omega 3!)
Key take home:
Antioxidants donate electrons to stabilize free radicals to minimize oxidative stress within the body. Excess free radicals cause oxidative stress to occur more rapidly, resulting in accelerated aging and greater risk for disease and chronic pain. Antioxidants that are sourced from nutrient dense foods are preferred.