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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Scirea

What are Antioxidants and why are they so important for us?

You have probably heard the word “antioxidants” pretty often as a healthy element that is good to fight “free radicals” and defend you from aging. But what exactly are these antioxidants and why are they so crucial for our health and longevity?

Why are Free Radicals Harmful and what is the link with the antioxidants?

First, oxygen is an element indispensable for life. When cells use oxygen to generate energy, free radicals are created as a consequence. These by-products are generally reactive oxygen species (ROS) as well as reactive nitrogen species (RNS) that result from the cellular redox process (i.e. the chemical reaction in which the oxidation states of atoms are changed).These species play a dual role as both toxic and beneficial compounds. At low or moderate levels, ROS and RNS have beneficial effects on cellular responses and immune function. At high concentrations, they generate oxidative stress, a deleterious process that can damage all cell structures.

Stress and other factors high levels of ROS, promoting oxidative stress and inflammation throughout the body. Oxidative stress plays a major part in the development of systemic inflammation and chronic and degenerative ailments as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, aging, vision loss, neurodegeneration such as cognitive decline.

What Antioxidants do for us?

The human body has several mechanisms to counteract oxidative stress by producing antioxidants, but it can also be externally supplied through foods and/or supplements. Endogenous and exogenous antioxidants act as “free radical scavengers” by preventing and repairing damages caused by ROS and RNS, and therefore can enhance the immune defense and lower the risk of cancer and degenerative diseases, as

As their name suggests, antioxidants fight oxidation, which is a normal bodily process that can produce free radicals. These contain an unpaired electron, and antioxidants neutralize and block free radicals by donating an electron of their own, says Mariana Dineen, RD, founder and registered dietitian at Pretty Nutritious.

Diets high in vegetables and fruits, which are good sources of antioxidants, have been found to be healthy; however, research has not shown antioxidant supplements to be beneficial in preventing diseases.

Examples of antioxidants include vitamins C , E and A, selenium, and carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Where you find Antioxidants?

  • · Vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leafy greens, tomatoes and winter squash.

  • · Vitamin E: leafy greens, vegetable oils, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts.

  • · Vitamin A and beta-carotene: yellow and orange-pigmented fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red and yellow peppers, cantaloupe, papaya and apricots. Spinach, broccoli and kale ad leafy greens. Fish, eggs and beef liver.

  • · Selenium: seafood, lean meats, fortified cereal and milk products and Brazilian nuts.

  • . Carotenoids: Plant pigments found in yellow, red and orange produce. One of the types of carotenoids includes Lycopene, the pigment that gives red and pink fruits, such as tomatoes, watermelons and pink grapefruit, their characteristic color.

  • · Zinc: in seafood, nuts and meat, milk.

  • · Copper: seafood, nuts and meat, milk.

  • · Manganese: seafood, lean meat, and nuts, milk.

  • · Flavonoids: A class of plant pigments found in tea, citrus fruits, red wine, onion and apples.

  • · Indoles: Found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.

  • · Isoflavonoids: Found in soybeans, tofu, lentils, peas and milk. Their derivatives are known as phytoestrogens.

How to integrate more Antioxidants in your day?

Adding them into your diet is one of the most effective ways to increase your intake of antioxidants. Most of the people are familiar with antioxidant-rich foods like fruits and veggies but how can we practically and easily adding them into our daily routine?

Add Fruits and Vegetables to Every Meal

Start by adding berries and some nuts to your breakfast, topping your yogurt, or your cereal bowl or having a simple cup of them.

Add some veggies to your lunch or dinner plate, whether is in your rice or pasta or next to your protein plus add some raw extra vergin olive oil.

Antioxidants-powered snacks

Have a snack with a bunch of nuts (walnuts, brasilian nuts) or a smoothie where you add some Acai or Aronia Powder or goji beriies plus enjoy a cup of green tea that contains different types of antioxidants called catechins.

Choose a glass of Red Wine for dinner

Red grapes contain more antioxidants than the white ones . Red wines contain resveratrol and a group of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are linked to controlling blood pressure, reducing damage to blood vessels and protecting against heart disease.

Enjoy your dessert with some Dark Chocolate

The darker the chocolate, the higher it is in antioxidants called flavonoids, which give it that dark color. Dark chocolate has been linked to reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and lessening the risk for blood clots.

Bottom Line

Excessive free radicals contribute to many chronic diseases and antioxidants are powerful fighter but this doesn’t automatically mean that substances with antioxidant properties will fix the problem, especially if they are taken out of their natural context. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health the studies so far are inconclusive but generally don’t provide strong evidence that antioxidant supplements have a substantial impact on disease. At the same time, abundant evidence suggests that eating whole in fruitsvegetables, and whole grains—all rich in networks of naturally occurring antioxidants and their helper molecules—provides protection against many scourges of aging.


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