What Are Antioxidants? (The Ultimate Guide)
Quick Summary of What Are Antioxidants? (The Ultimate Guide):
1. What Are Antioxidants?
2. Antioxidants In Plants
3. Antioxidants In Minerals And Vitamins
4. Enzymes Are Antioxidants
5. What Other Foods Contain Antioxidants?
6. Antioxidants in Essential Oils
7. Antioxidants in Supplements
Ever heard of antioxidants? You’ve probably at least heard the word but perhaps don’t know much beyond “they’re supposed to be healthy”. Antioxidants are extremely important nutrients that you should know about if you care about your health. At SafeSweets, they play a big role in what we’re all about. Hint: healthy chocolate has lots of antioxidants in it! More on that soon. This article explains everything from what they are and what they do in your body to what foods contain the most of them.
What Are Antioxidants?
To explain what an antioxidant is, we first need to explain what a free radical is. You might remember this term from high school science class. Free radicals are bad molecules. They attack healthy, functional molecules in your body, also known as pro-oxidants. The ones that get attacked are usually necessary for important body functions. Free radicals tend to prefer attacking the pro-oxidants we need the most. What makes a free radical? Well, remember when you learned about atoms in school? You know – protons, neutrons, electrons – all that. Ring a bell?
Here’s a refresher. In order for a molecule to be a molecule, it needs two (or more) atoms. Every molecule is made up of at least 2 atoms. Now comes the question: what makes a molecule stable or unstable? This is where electrons come in. There needs to be just the right amount of electrons to stabilize a molecule. If the number of electrons isn’t right, the molecule turns into a free radical.
Enter antioxidants! Antioxidants fight free radicals. This is good because free radicals cause a lot of bad things. Left unchecked, they can cause heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and various autoimmune disease. Even though they occur naturally in our bodies, living a healthy lifestyle keeps the antioxidant/free radical balance in check. When we eat unhealthily and rarely (if ever) exercise, this balance is thrown off (otherwise known as oxidative stress).
You know what inhibits antioxidants from doing their job? Smoking, air pollution, and exposure to heavy metals, to name only a few.
Antioxidants In Plants
Phytonutrients (also known as flavonoids) are full of antioxidants and have lots of health benefits. They’re found mostly in plants. Inside these chemical compounds, antioxidants thrive. In fact, phytonutrients house the highest concentration of antioxidants anywhere. Even though only some have been studied closely, experts believe that over 4,000 kinds of phytonutrients exist in the natural world. There are 5, in particular, that tend to be the most common because they’re found in foods humans often eat.
The 5 Main Types of Phytonutrients
These antioxidants specialize in keeping our blood vessels healthy. Foods that are rich in anthocyanins include asparagus, carrots, potatoes (purple), eggplants, and berries. If a vegetable or fruit is purple or blue, it’s probably got lots of anthocyanins in it.
These antioxidants specialize in inflammation reduction, cancer prevention, and keeping our lungs and heart healthy. Foods that are rich in resveratrol include grapes, peanuts, red wine, and dark chocolate.
These antioxidants specialize in breast cancer prevention, alleviating menopause symptoms, relieving inflammation in the joints, and keeping bones healthy. Soybeans are the main food rich in isoflavones.
These antioxidants specialize in keeping your heart and prostate healthy. Foods that are rich in lycopene include red peppers, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and tomatoes.
These antioxidants specialize in cancer prevention in addition to keeping the heart, eyes, and bones healthy. Foods that are rich in lycopene include collard greens, artichokes, kale, lettuce, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, spinach, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apricots, and carrots.
Antioxidants In Minerals And Vitamins
Antioxidants are also found in a variety of minerals and vitamins.
Vitamin E contains antioxidants and has lots of health benefits including keeping free radical production down. There are lots of foods that are rich in vitamin E. These include dry-roasted hazelnuts, sunflower oil, safflower oil, dry-roasted almonds, dry-roasted sunflower seeds, and wheat germ oil.
Vitamin C also contains antioxidants. Look at the label on whatever food you’re eating and see if ascorbic acid is one of the ingredients. If it is, then you’re eating a food rich in vitamin C. Not only does it provide all the benefits of antioxidants, but it revives vitamin E as well. Similar to phytonutrients, vitamin C is mostly found in plants. It specializes in preventing heart disease, some cancers, and many diseases. Foods rich in vitamin C include kiwi, grapefruit juice, oranges, orange juice, and raw red bell peppers.
Selenium is a vitamin that specializes in cancer prevention and keeping the heart healthy. It comes in organic and inorganic form, both of which the body utilizes nicely. It’s found in a variety of animals and plants.
Foods rich in selenium include roasted ham, sardines, halibut, yellowfin tuna, and Brazil nuts.
One of the main compounds found in the mineral copper is called ceruloplasmin. The job of this chemical compound is to chauffeur iron to the tissue throughout your body. It’s important to the body in that you should not consume too much or too little. Too much is bad and too little is also bad. A balanced intake of copper is necessary to allow it to work efficiently. It also buoys up other vitamins and minerals such as glutathione, catalase, iron, and selenium. People with a copper deficiency are usually deficient in those other compounds as well. Foods that are rich in copper include tomato puree, granola, soy protein powder, black beans, and oysters.
This mineral is a strong antioxidant and specializes in providing energy. It’s found in the mitochondria of the cells throughout your body. Foods that are rich in manganese include pineapple juice, pineapple, almonds, brown rice, and pecans.
Zinc is an important vitamin with lots of antioxidant power. Dozens of other enzymes depend on zinc to function properly. It specializes in keeping the immune system up and running, keeping arteries healthy, and reduces inflammation. Foods that are rich in zinc include many breakfast cereals, beef patties, Alaskan King crabs, beef roasts, and oysters.
This mineral specializes in cell membrane protection. It fights off oxidation which is basically damage to the cell membrane. Iron comes in two forms: with and without an attached protein called heme. Iron with the protein provides an additional service by helping the body absorb other important nutrients. Foods that are rich in iron include beef liver, dark chocolate, canned white beans, oysters, and many breakfast cereals.
Enzymes Are Antioxidants
Another compound that takes up arms against free radicals is the enzyme. This is another term you’ve probably heard of but don’t know much about. Enzymes are protein molecules that are necessary for all the body’s chemical reactions to work. When enzymes are present, these chemical reactions get going and speed up. If they’re not present, reactions are slow, which is not good. When it comes to antioxidants, enzymes don’t just get rid of free radicals. They transform them into water which the body then uses! Enzymes are incredibly important to our health on a number of levels. The three most common enzymes where antioxidants are concerned are superoxide dismutases, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase.
The enzyme that represents the biggest fight against free radicals is superoxide dismutases. SODs for short. SODs are dependent on manganese and copper in order to work properly. Because of this, the foods listed above that are rich in these two minerals contain the most SODs.
Similar to superoxide dismutases, glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx for short) also transforms free radicals into water. GSHPx depends on selenium to function properly so you’ll find it in abundance in foods that contain that mineral.
And finally, catalase (CAT for short) is the third antioxidant-rich enzyme we’ll mention. Like it’s two counterparts, it succeeds in getting rid of free radicals by turning them into water. However, it needs iron to function properly. Foods rich in iron contain the enzyme catalase.
This section has a lot of unpronounceable words in it, but know that these enzymes provide phenomenal health benefits. You probably noticed that all these enzymes are dependent on certain vitamins and minerals to do their work properly. These facts further emphasize the importance of eating foods that contain them. Deficiencies in any major vitamin or mineral will result in one (or more) of many health problems. This is because, without them, the antioxidants cannot properly fight free radicals, allowing them to do their dirty work.
What Other Foods Contain Antioxidants?
There are many other types of food that contain antioxidants; not just vegetables, fruits, vitamins, and minerals. Spices and herbs, in particular. Here some spices that contain high amounts of phytonutrients. Garlic, Tasmanian pepper, yellow pepper, Chile pepper, red onion, sage, mustard, ginger, rosemary, wormwood, coriander (leaves), fennel, thyme, dill, saffron, capers, celery seeds, Mexican oregano, and parsley.
Antioxidants in Essential Oils
Essential oils used to be obscure products shrouded in skepticism. Now they are very mainstream as their health benefits how been tried and tested, despite a few remaining skeptics. There are some natural oils that provide wonderful antioxidant properties. As you may know, the effectiveness of these oils sometimes depend on how it’s administered. Inhalation, ingestion, or applied to the skin. But there are some oils that are known to have antioxidant effects. Some of them include oregano, clary sage, nutmeg, myrrh, german chamomile, rose, coriander, fennel, and cedarwood.
Antioxidants in Supplements
Supplements are an effective way to get a balanced antioxidant intake. Many people already take supplements for various health and dietary reasons. Some of the ones you’re already taking may be providing you with antioxidants without you realizing it. There are thousands of supplements available at your local supplement store and each one boasts a different benefit. Some provide antioxidant effects more than others. Remember, you shouldn’t just go buy every supplement someone suggests to you and add it to your daily intake. Talk to a physician or nutrition specialist before buying anything and everything. You don’t want to take too much. That’s not healthy. It’s all about balance.
Four of the most popular antioxidant supplements are vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, and beta-carotene. Again, please consult a doctor first. Especially if you have cancer. Some antioxidant-rich supplements can do more harm than good for cancer patients. This is because antioxidant supplements promote cell growth and this effect can spill over to cancer cells. You obviously don’t want to take pills that are promoting the growth of harmful cells. Also, if you’re taking any prescribed medication, it’s best to consult a doctor before taking on new supplements.
And let it be known that it’s been scientifically proven that getting antioxidants from natural foods is more effective than getting them from supplements.
What Are Antioxidants? (The Ultimate Guide) – Conclusion
However you decide to get antioxidants into your body, remember something we’ve said multiple times in this article. It’s all about balance. Do your best to eat a healthy diet and chances are you’ll get proper antioxidant intake without any additional thought. Perhaps you already know that your body has a prone deficiency to a particular vitamin or mineral that provides antioxidants. If so, then you know where to start. Find foods that meet your body’s requirements.
Remember that cocoa is very high in antioxidants. At SafeSweets, you can be sure that what we’re giving you is of the highest quality. Full of flavor and packed with health benefits!