Antioxidants: What they are and where to find them
You’ve heard of them, but do you know what antioxidants are or what they do?
The Battle Between Free Radicals and Antioxidants
Antioxidants battle free radicals, which are highly unstable molecules that are missing electrons, so they steal electrons from others. This results in cell damage and even impacts our DNA. The sources of free radicals include aftereffects of exercise, the process of converting food to energy in your body, and known dangers like cigarette smoke and air pollution. Another free radical source is sunlight.
Antioxidants prevent or delay cell damage caused by free radicals, counteracting oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, age-related cataracts and macular degeneration, and even skin aging.
Are Antioxidant Supplements the Answer?
So does that mean antioxidants “cure” damage done by free radicals? The answer is a resounding, “Maybe.” According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have shown that a diet rich in antioxidants is healthier and leads to better outcomes, but have not proven that it’s the antioxidants in particular. It may be something else in those healthier foods doing the heavy lifting. More research is needed.
If antioxidants may help prevent serious health problems, does that mean antioxidant supplements are helpful? High-dose supplementation is not recommended. For instance, beta-carotene taken in high doses increases lung cancer risks in cigarette smokers, and high vitamin E supplementation appears to increase the risk of prostate cancer and some types of strokes.
However, two major studies (AREDS and AREDS2) have shown certain antioxidants (vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin) can prevent or delay advanced stages of the eye disease macular degeneration.
Bottom Line on Antioxidants
So while they may not be a cure-all, the sources of antioxidants are known to make a difference. To boost your antioxidant intake, eat a diet rich in veggies, fruits, whole grains and nuts/legumes.
Here are a few of the numerous antioxidants and some sources:
Cartenoids: sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, winter squash and broccoli.
Vitamin C: cantaloupe, cauliflower, citrus fruits, honeydew, leafy greens, kale, kiwi, snow peas, strawberries and bell peppers.
Vitamin E: Swiss chard, avocado, almonds, peanuts, spinach, wheat germ, whole grains and fortified cereals, seeds and nuts.
Zinc: poultry, beef, sesame seeds, chickpeas and lentils, pumpkin seeds, cashews, oysters and shrimp.
Phenols: apples, red wine, tea, cocoa, onions, berries, grapes and some spices.