Antioxidants are natural compounds found in various foods that help protect our bodies against the harmful effects of free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable molecules produced in our body as a result of various processes, such as metabolism, inflammation, and exposure to environmental factors like pollution and radiation.
These unstable molecules can damage cells, proteins, and DNA, potentially causing various diseases.
Antioxidants help neutralize these free radicals and prevent them from causing oxidative stress and damage to our body.
They play a crucial role in maintaining our overall health and preventing chronic diseases. In this post, we will explore some common antioxidants and the foods that contain them.
Our body produces some antioxidants on its own, known as endogenous antioxidants. However, we also need to get antioxidants from external sources, mainly through our diet. These external antioxidants are called dietary antioxidants, and they can be found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Some of them can also be taken as supplements.1
Some examples of dietary antioxidants are beta-carotene, lycopene, and vitamins A, C, and E. Selenium is a mineral that is often considered an antioxidant, but its antioxidant properties are mainly due to proteins containing selenium rather than the mineral itself.
Examples of Antioxidants in Foods
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant that plays a vital role in maintaining our immune system, collagen synthesis, and wound healing.
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits)
- Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
- Kiwi fruit
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
This fat-soluble antioxidant helps protect our cell membranes from oxidative damage and supports a healthy immune system.
Foods high in vitamin E include:
- Nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts)
- Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
- Swiss chard
Vitamin C and vitamin E share a unique relationship as they both play an essential role in protecting our body from oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
These two antioxidants work synergistically, meaning they enhance each other’s effectiveness in neutralizing harmful molecules.
Vitamin C, being a water-soluble antioxidant, primarily functions in the aqueous parts of the cell, while vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant, protects the lipid components of the cell membrane.
Additionally, vitamin C has the ability to regenerate oxidized vitamin E, thereby restoring its antioxidant capacity. This complementary action between the two vitamins is crucial for maintaining a healthy balance of antioxidants in the body, ultimately contributing to the prevention of chronic diseases and supporting overall well-being.
A precursor of vitamin A, beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect our skin, eyes, and immune system.
Foods rich in beta-carotene include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Butternut squash
- Collard greens
Selenium is a part of selenoproteins and enzymes, which possess antioxidant properties. These proteins and enzymes help break down peroxides, harmful substances that can damage tissues and DNA. By doing so, they reduce inflammation and prevent various health issues. 2
Foods high in selenium include:
The selenium content in foods can greatly vary based on the soil in which they are grown, as soil content differs by region. Plant foods absorb selenium from the soil, which then impacts the amount of selenium in animals that consume those plants. Animal-based protein foods are generally good sources of selenium.
- Brazil nuts
- Cottage cheese
- Brown rice
These are a large group of plant-based antioxidants that possess anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as their ability to regulate important cellular enzyme functions. 3
Foods rich in flavonoids include:
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
- Red wine
- Green tea
- Dark chocolate
Incorporating a variety of these antioxidant-rich foods into your daily diet can help protect your body against the harmful effects of free radicals and promote overall health. Remember to consume a balanced and diverse diet, as different antioxidants work together to provide optimal protection.