As we familiarize ourselves with vitamins and minerals, we can recognize and identify a very important type of subset within micronutrients; antioxidants. You’ve likely heard this term before used in a positive dietary context, but what exactly do antioxidants do, and why are they so important? Antioxidants are a type of nutrient component that is able to limit or prevent cellular damage that is caused by free radicals. Free radicals are a type of reactive, unstable molecule that we are exposed to in our everyday lives that cause damage to our cells, resulting in oxidative stress, aging, and disease progression.
Simply put, since free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron, they bounce around in our bodies trying to steal electrons from other molecules in an attempt to stabilize themselves. Unfortunately, these stolen electrons usually come from important structures within our cells, such as lipid membranes, proteins, and DNA, effectively compromising their structure and function. Antioxidants are able to counteract this damage by donating extra electrons to these free radicals, while still maintaining their own stability so that our cells don’t pay the price.
There are several kinds and sources of antioxidants, some of the main ones include vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, bioflavonoids, terpenoids, as well as selenium, and zinc. There has been extensive research on the effects and mechanisms of antioxidants in the body, and though taking supplements to ensure you get enough of these helpful components may seem like the easiest way, research has concluded that supplementation is not actually beneficial and that consuming antioxidant-rich food is the best method to reap the benefits.
By incorporating foods rich in antioxidants in our diet, we can lower our risk of cancer and chronic diseases, and contribute to our overall health. Some of the highest food sources include things like: blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, spinach, broccoli, artichokes, onions, bell peppers, citrus fruits, garlic, kale, dark chocolate, and green tea to name a few.