It's a word we've heard before, but why are they so good for us and where do we find them?
What is an antioxidant?
They have been hailed as anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and just all round good guys of the nutrition world!
Why? Read on to find out more!
Antioxidants are commonly known but little understood compounds found in foods.
You may have heard of antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E and the antioxidant mineral, selenium (1).
However there is also an abundance of non nutrient dietary compounds called polyphenols, typically found in plant foods, that also have powerful antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants are compounds found in food that have major health benefits, including some vitamins, minerals and polyphenols.
Why are antioxidants so good for us?
They have a reputation for anti-aging, anti-inflammation and anti-cancer, Amy drops a bit of science on us to help us better understand why!
What makes antioxidants so good for us?
Antioxidants have a reputation for anti-aging, anti-inflammation and anti-cancer for one reason. They neutralise cell damaging particles in our bodies called free radicals. Free radicals are a normal byproduct of bodily functions such as breathing and exercising, however they also increase with smoking, sun damage, air pollution etc (2).
Bare with me I’m about to hit you with some science, but it’s kind of important!
Now, free radicals are ‘electron stealers’, which is a big problem! Electrons like to hang out in pairs and a molecule with an even amount of electrons, with each electron having a buddy is a more stable molecule. If a free radical steals one of those electrons away the molecule becomes unstable and much more likely to dysfunction. Which could look like damage to the artery walls or even mutations into cancers. This process is called oxidation. ANTIoxidants are the little heroes that stop the free radicals from stealing electrons. They do this by ‘donating’ an electron to a free radical, keeping everybody happy and diffusing the situation. Yay, antioxidants!
Antioxidants prevent cellular damage from oxidation caused by free radicals.
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Weekly educational nutrition videos, ongoing email support for members and a live weekly question and answer session. All with our DediKate Nutritionist Amy.
Or to hear more about the antioxidant foods you should be including in your diet, login to DediKate and check out Amy’s Eat Great chat, Ep #43 - Antioxidants!
Read on to learn about the best ways of getting antioxidants into your system!
So I can just take an antioxidant pill right?
Mmm, Not quite. Whilst supplementing with antioxidant vitamins and minerals can be beneficial if you have a pre-existing deficiency it does not seem that supplementing with antioxidants would be helpful for everyone.
For example, supplementation with Beta-carotene (a dietary precursor to Vitamin A often found in multivitamins) can increase lung cancer risk in smokers (3). Vitamin E supplementation seems to increase your risk of prostate cancer (4). Supplementing with certain antioxidants can also cause particularly negative interactions with some medications, such as Vitamin E or the polyphenol curcumin will interact with blood pressure medication and can cause severe bleeding.
Additionally, and somewhat surprisingly, antioxidant supplements don’t generally seem to do a lot in reducing risk of cancers or improving your chances once you’ve been diagnosed. On top of this, antioxidant supplementation can interfere with how your body adapts to exercise. It would appear that you actually need some of these increased free radicals to hang around for a while after exercise in order to stimulate the body to adapt to the exercise stress, getting stronger and fitter (5). Antioxidant supplementation literally steals your gains, bro!
Antioxidant supplementation has little effect on cancer risk and is known to have some health risks for certain people. It doesn’t seem to have the health benefits of dietary antioxidants.
Ok, so where do I find antioxidants then?
Antioxidants from wholefoods seem to work wonders for our health. Lifespan and quality of life generally increases with a diet high in antioxidants while cancer risk actually decreases! Therefore I would opt for eating my antioxidants from food.
Vitamin A: Liver, cheese, eggs, oily fish, orange vegetables
Vitamin C: Citrus fruit, strawberry, potato, capsicum, green vegetables
Vitamin E: Vegetable oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds
Selenium: Brazil nuts, fish, meat , eggs
Additionally, there are estimated to be around 10,000 non nutrient phytochemicals in plants!
Many of which have antioxidant properties, making it difficult to isolate the particular polyphenols amongst these that may be the most beneficial. We do however know that diets rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables tend to have lower risks of cancers, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and many other diseases that can be linked to diet and lifestyle.
Basically Antioxidants are found in foods containing Vitamin A, C, E and selenium and are particularly high in plant based foods as polyphenols.
Let’s Sum It Up
Antioxidants are compounds found in food that have great health benefits. They neutralise cell damaging particles called free radicals, stopping cellular oxidation. Nutrient antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E and the mineral selenium however many antioxidant compounds are also found in plant based foods in the form of polyphenols. Antioxidant supplementation does not seem to provide much of a health benefit, however increasing dietary intakes of antioxidants can reduce your risk of disease and improve your lifespan.
Interested in a more in depth look into some foods rich in these antioxidant polyphenols?
To hear more about the antioxidant foods you should be including in your diet latest DediKate Eat Great chat with Amy - Ep #43 on Antioxidants!
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