Antioxidants and free radicals are common buzz words in the health and wellness world. We can guess by the term “free radical” that this isn’t something we want rampaging around our bodies. And we have likely heard of antioxidants being present in fruits and vegetables, but what makes these so beneficial, and how do the two relate? Let’s dive deeper into what they are, exactly, and how they can help or harm our bodies!
Free radicals are reactive and unstable molecules that can build up, causing accelerated aging through oxidative damage. They lack an electron, which like to be in pairs. Much like a person trying to sleep through a party with a single earplug, free radicals will tear through the whole house until they find another earplug (ie. electron) to put an end to the noise. They can either steal an electron from a healthy atom or accept one from an antioxidant. Free radicals are not abnormal, as they are produced as byproducts of vital functions in our body. They also come from inflammation, exercise, environmental toxins, radiation, drugs and pesticides, emotional stress and a poor diet, to name a few.
Antioxidants are very stable and contain additional electrons that can be donated to other molecules. Antioxidants seek out free radicals to donate electrons to, neutralizing them and protecting healthy cells from incurring oxidative damage. Antioxidants can be found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, like carrots and peppers, that are high in beta-carotene. Green and white tea, herbs, spices and cocoa also contain high amounts of other antioxidants like vitamin C, E, selenium, polyphenols and other carotenoids. Having a variety of antioxidant rich foods will help reduce the negative impact of enduring a stressful day of work, a drink we had over the weekend, and that donut that was too irresistible to pass up.
When we neglect to eat antioxidant rich foods on a regular basis, we risk facing some major health consequences. If there are not enough antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, cell damage accumulates, translating to accelerated aging, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. In order to keep the oxidative damage fire at bay, we should regularly consume a very mixed diet of antioxidant rich foods. Let’s focus on supplying our bodies with these powerful plants that will support all of the hard work we do inside and outside of the gym and keep us warding off the nursing home!
- Lobo, V, et al. “Free Radicals, Antioxidants and Functional Foods: Impact on Human Health.” Pharmacognosy Reviews, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, July 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911/.
- Levy, Jillian. “Top 8 Foods & Oils to Fight Free Radical Damage.” Dr. Axe, 12 Dec. 2017, draxe.com/health/cancer/fighting-free-radical-damage/.
- Axe, Josh. “These Foods, Herb, Spices & Oils Are Absolutely Bursting with Antioxidants.” Dr. Axe, 7 May 2018, draxe.com/nutrition/article/top-10-high-antioxidant-foods/.