What Are Antioxidants?
Have you ever wondered what antioxidants are and what they do?
In this blog post, we'll be exploring exactly that, their benefits and how to get them in your diet.
So, let's get started with the basics.
What Is an Antioxidant?
Antioxidants are molecules that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals (we will go into what they are shortly) and they play an important role in maintaining our health.
Antioxidants inhibit oxidation, which is a chemical reaction resulting in the formation of free radicals and are essential for preventing liver damage and restoring liver health.
Your DNA can become damaged due to oxidation and some research has suggested that this can play a role in the ageing process. Therefore, one of the most essential health benefits of antioxidants is their ability to protect cells from oxidative stress.
Antioxidants have been part of our diets for millions of years but their effects only started to be discovered in the early 20th century.
So, What Are Free Radicals?
Free radical cells are also molecules but they are produced when your body breaks down food or when you’re exposed to a lot of pollution, radiation or cigarette smoke (to name just a few).
Your body is continuously producing free radicals, however, if too many of them are produced, your liver will get overwhelmed and will not be able to detoxify them efficiently enough, causing an enhanced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other illnesses.
We need to be thankful for antioxidants because, without them, our liver wouldn’t function properly, which would eventually cause fatal damage.
The image below shows a typical, stable molecule (blue) next to a free radical because it lacks an electron (purple).
Are all free radicals bad?
Before you continue reading, no, not all free radicals are bad for your body. Free radicals actually have crucial roles in maintaining human health.
For instance, to fight infections, our immune cells use free radicals. So, it is vital to maintain a healthy liver to balance the number of antioxidants and free radical cells in our bodies.
How can we reduce the number of free radicals in our bodies? Well, the first step in understanding what free radicals are is complete. Now it is just knowing how you can look after your inner body to stop them from multiplying.
1. Limit processed meats and foods that contain preservatives
Why? Because having a lot of processed foods in your diet is very dangerous, and there is convincing evidence that it causes cancer as well as cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease and diabetes. These can all cause the liver's functions to decline, causing fat to build up in the liver, forcing toxins to build up and multiply.
2. Limit your red meat consumption
Not many people realise why having too much red meat can be bad for you, mainly because it isn’t processed. However, red meat raises bad cholesterol levels because it is so high in saturated fat. Anything high in fat can be harmful to the liver, causing fat to deposit and the organ to be unable to detoxify efficiently enough, causing toxins to build up.
3. Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol triggers the pancreas to produce toxic substances, which makes the liver's job 10 times harder to metabolise the alcohol consumed. Alcohol also contains a lot of calories, which can eventually cause fat to build up in the liver.
4. Ensure to eat foods rich in antioxidants
Always try to include foods rich in antioxidants; some food examples are broccoli, blueberries, carrots, spinach, avocados, beets and much more.
These foods carry many other benefits too but foods high in antioxidants are so important because they neutralise free radical cells.
A healthy diet is so important for your body to function normally and is definitely something that should be adopted into your lifestyle.
A great advantage of exercise is how much it benefits the metabolism. Physical activity also increases muscle mass and teaches the body to burn calories at a faster rate and this continues even when the body is at rest.
The Types of Antioxidants and Their Different Duties
There is no doubt that there are probably hundreds of types of antioxidants but of course, like anything, there is always a core team.
Antioxidants can be organised as either enzymatic antioxidants or non-enzymatic antioxidants.
Enzymatic antioxidants change harmful substances into hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). However, non-enzymatic antioxidants function by interrupting the chain reactions of free radicals.
The main antioxidants are:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
- Carotenoids (such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin)
Each antioxidant serves a different function and is not interchangeable with another, which is why it is so important to have a varied diet!
Foods Rich in Antioxidants
We briefly touched upon some foods that were high in antioxidants already but it is so important to switch up your diet to ensure your body is working at its best, so let's go into more detail.
Below is a list of the antioxidants, and next to it are the foods that contain them.
- Vitamin A: Dairy produce, eggs and liver
- Vitamin C: Most fruits and vegetables, especially berries, oranges and bell peppers
- Vitamin E: Nuts and seeds, sunflower and other vegetable oils and green, leafy vegetables
- Beta-carotene: Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, peas, spinach and mangoes
- Lycopene: Pink and red fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and watermelon
- Lutein: Green, leafy vegetables, corn, papaya and oranges
- Selenium: Rice, corn, wheat and other whole grains, as well as nuts, eggs, cheese and legumes
Generally, foods with rich, bright colours often contain the most antioxidants (blueberries, apples, broccoli and spinach)... but some hidden sources are dark, like chocolate and black tea.
Health Benefits of Antioxidants
The health benefits of antioxidants go beyond neutralising free radical cells. They also provide other benefits, such as improving skin health, reducing inflammation, preventing cell damage, slowing down the ageing process and so much more.
The effects of antioxidants on our body depend on how much we consume and the quality of the source. It's best to get your daily intake from natural sources like fruits and vegetables, but there is also a large range of supplements to choose from to fit in with your lifestyle.
Additionally, regular exercise helps keep our bodies strong by helping to reduce levels of free radicals naturally.
Are antioxidant supplements good to take?
Most health professionals advise people to avoid high-dose antioxidant supplements and this is why…
Natural antioxidant foods and drinks reduce oxidative damage to a greater extent than supplements, in fact, taking antioxidant supplements in high amounts can do just the opposite. It can potentially decrease exercise performance, increase disease risk and cause birth defects.
However, if the recommended amount is not exceeded then it can still contribute to decreasing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
The best strategy to ensure adequate antioxidant intake is to follow a diet rich in various vegetables and fruits, along with healthy habits.
How do antioxidants protect the liver?
The liver is part of the body’s natural detoxification system. It is one of the most important organs in the body and doesn’t get enough appreciation and antioxidants are a core part of protecting it.
Antioxidants help remove toxins from the body which gives the liver a help in hand. With the organ performing over 500 vital functions it is especially important to keep it protected.
The true saying is, "Look after your liver and it will look after you.”
The Bottom Line With Antioxidants
Our body is amazing and it does so much for us that we should take more care to look after it and have a second thoughts about what we put inside of it.
Antioxidants protect our bodies from the harm caused by free radicals but we still need a good balance between the two in order to keep a happy immune system.
The best strategy is to have a healthy, balanced diet and incorporate fruits and vegetables to get your daily dose of antioxidants.
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