The Power of Antioxidants
It is time that we dive into the world of antioxidants here on Bits of Fitness. When discussing the many health benefits of whole foods from the Tidbits Collection, antioxidants come up a lot in the conversation. Simply speaking, antioxidants support overall health by being our little molecular soldiers by fighting on the front lines to protect the smallest aspects that makes us, us from free radicals. Please know that this is a vast topic. Therefore, research is needed to further understand the roles antioxidants and free radicals play in the human body. If you are interested, keep reading to learn a brief introduction and the importance of antioxidants.
(Psst…do not forget to check out the table at the very end!)
What are Antioxidants?
According to Medical News Today,
“antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals”.
They protect our body on the cellular level by slowing or preventing the damage that free radicals can have on our DNA and other building blocks that are found in our cells. Essentially, antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals in the human body improving overall health.
Where do Antioxidants Come From?
Antioxidants can be either natural or artificial. Natural antioxidants include antioxidants that are naturally produced by the human body and plant-based nutrients (phytonutrients). Artificial antioxidants can be found in supplements. I do want to point out that supplements should not be used as the main source of antioxidants to support overall health. Regularly eating fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet to support overall health.
Antioxidants that come from inside the body are called endogenous antioxidants (those that are naturally produced) and those that come from outside of the body are called exogenous antioxidants (antioxidants that are consumed).
Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress
Medical News Today defines free radicals as,
“unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental [stress] and other pressures”.
Free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROSs), are substance that are produced by the human body as a response to factors from inside or outside of the body. Internal factors include the body processing food, while external factors include the body reacting to the environment.
ROSs can become dangerous to overall health in high amounts. This leads to oxidative stress within the human body and results in cellular damage. From a more scientific perspective, oxidative stress can result in the following reactions:
- Excessive release of free iron or copper ions
- Activation of phagocytes (a type of white blood cells that are designed to fight off infection in the human body)
- Increase in the enzymes that produce free radicals
- Disrupting electron transport chains
Oxidative stress is linked to inflammatory conditions that include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, respiratory diseases, immune deficiency, emphysema, and Parkinson’s disease.
Internal and External Factors That Contribute to ROSs and Oxidative Stress
There are both internal and external factors that can lead to an increase in ROSs and oxidative stress in the human body. Internal factors include:
- Mitochondrial activity
- Consumption of alcohol
- High blood sugar levels
- Consumption of foods
Food consumption refers to the consumption of foods that are highly processed, such as fast food and other foods marketed for convenience. Essentially, foods that contain ingredients (such as trans fats, artificial sweeteners, dyes, and additives) that the body is unable to recognize. Therefore, it is important to limit processed food consumption.
External factors include:
- Pollution from the environment
- Chemical exposure
- UV exposure
- Cigarette smoke
- Industrial solvents
- Excessive exercise
Before you freak out, remember that antioxidants can help to reduce these risks by being naturally produced within the body and consumed from healthy sources.
Types of Antioxidants
There are many different types of antioxidants. Antioxidants are unique because they have their own way of interacting with the human body and other antioxidants. So many of these different substances can be found in healthy, whole foods. That is why it is important to have a colorful diet full of different fruits and vegetables. This is how you can obtain a wide range of vital nutrients and antioxidant.
Some antioxidants are more important than others. Vitamin C, for instance, is an essential dietary nutrient. Vitamin E, on the other hand, protects cell membranes from oxidative damage. Finally, flavonoids are an important plant-based antioxidant with a lot of health benefits.
The list of healthful antioxidants does not end there! I have compiled a list of antioxidants and the foods each are found in to further express the importance of a colorful diet. Know that there are more antioxidants found in other plant-based and animal-based foods to support overall health than what is included here.
Were you aware of the powerful benefits that antioxidants provide? Let me know in the comments down below!
Some Antioxidants and Where They are Found
How can antioxidants benefit our health? – written by Megan Ware, RND, L.D.
Antioxidants Explained in Simple Terms – written by Atli Arnarson, BSc, PhD
12 Healthy Foods High in Antioxidants – written by Ryan Raman, MS, RD
Antioxidants: In Depth – NCCIH
20 Foods That Are High in Vitamin C – written by Caroline Hill, MHumNutr, BS
20 Foods That Are High in Vitamin E – written by Atli Arnarson, BSc, Ph
Benefits of Beta Carotene and How to Get It – written by Natalie Olsen, R.D., L.D., ACSM EP-C
20 Foods That Are High in Vitamin A – written by Atli Arnarson, BSc, PhD
Lycopene: Health Benefits and Top Food Sources – written by Alina Petre, MS, RD (NL)
Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Benefits, Dosage and Food Sources – written by Sharon O’Brien, MS, PGDip
20 Foods Rich in Selenium – written by Natalie Olsen, R.D., L.D., ACSM EP-C
10 Magnesium-Rich Foods That Are Super Healthy – written by Franziska Spritzler
What Are Flavonoids? Everything You Need to Know – written by Kathryn Watson
Top Foods with Polyphenols – written by Ana Gotter