1. What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, some meats, poultry and fish. These substances may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures to poisons such as tobacco smoke and radiation. The exposure to free radicals can damage cells, weaken the immune system, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
2. What do Antioxidants do?
Antioxidants block the process of oxidation by neutralizing free radicals. In doing so, the antioxidants themselves become oxidized. That is why there is a constant need to replenish our antioxidant resources.
The way they work can be explained in one of two ways:
- Chain-breaking - When a free radical releases or steals an electron, a second radical is formed. This molecule then turns around and does the same thing to a third molecule, continuing to generate more unstable products. The process continues until termination occurs — either the radical is stabilized by a chain-breaking antioxidant such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, or it simply decays into a harmless product.
- Preventive - Antioxidant enzymes like superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase prevent oxidation by reducing the rate of chain initiation. That is, by scavenging initiating radicals, such antioxidants can thwart an oxidation chain from ever setting in motion. They can also prevent oxidation by stabilizing transition metal radicals such as copper and iron.
3. What types of Antioxidants are out there?
There are three primary types of antioxidants found in nature. These include phytochemicals (naturally according in plants, used to protect themselves against free radicals), vitamins (include vitamins A, C, E, folic acid, and beta-carotene), and enzymes (Enzymes are types of antioxidants that come from the protein and minerals we eat as part of our daily diets). Most of the most powerful antioxidants are found in plants since plants are exposed to UV light all throughout the day.
4. Are Antioxidants Really Good for Me?
Like we mentioned before, Antioxidants benefit your health by cleaning free radicals out of your bloodstream. Some studies have shown that antioxdants reduce the signs of aging by minimizing wrinkles and preserving the texture of the skin. They can even protect your skin from sun damage, and reduce the incidence of sunburn.
Although antioxidants aren’t proven to treat any conditions, research has shown that antioxidants have also been implicated in the prevention of a number of degenerative, age-related disease, including: Cancer, Cardiovascular disease, Macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few.
5. How Much Do I Need?
In order to ensure that you get plenty of antioxidants in your daily diet, the USDA recommends that you eat a varied diet, with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and six to eleven servings of grains, including at least three servings of whole grains.