Making sense of anti-oxidants – Part 1
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Making sense of anti-oxidants – Part 1

Antioxidants are an essential part of a healthy diet and play a big role in terms of our overall wellbeing. These compounds are shown to help prevent and repair damage to cells and body’s tissues.

But what are they exactly and how do they help your body?

To understand antioxidants, you’ve got to first understand what they’re fighting and that’s oxidation. Oxidation occurs for example when iron reacts with oxygen and rusts, or when a sliced apple goes brown.

Cut an apple into half. Leave one half untreated and it will go to brown: it oxidises! Soak the other half into a lemon juice. The antioxidant Vitamin C slows the browning or oxidising process.

Photo by Estúdio Bloom on Unsplash

Within the body oxidation occurs as a natural part of daily life when oxygen is used to turn food into energy. But…oxidation processes create ‘free radicals’- very unstable molecules that attach to and ultimately damage healthy cells in your body. The build-up of free radicals in the body is thought to be linked to numerous conditions and diseases including for example memory loss, aging and wrinkles, autoimmune disorders, heart disease and even cancer. Every day your body creates free radicals, and you need antioxidants to neutralize them and help keep your system in balance. Free radicals can also be generated by poor diet, exposure to sunlight, air pollution, cigarette smoke, stress or even excessive exercise!

What are sources of antioxidants?

There are hundreds of substances that act as antioxidants. These include widely discussed nutrients, like minerals (copper, zinc and selenium) and vitamins (mainly Vitamin A, C and vitamin E), as well as less well-known ones, like flavonoids, carotenoids and polyphenols and many more! The human body naturally produces some antioxidants, as for example glutathione and melatonin. However most of them have to come from food. While all foods contain some antioxidants, plant foods are the primary source as they contain much more antioxidants than animal-based foods. Also, the majority of anti-oxidants in meat and milk are destroyed by cooking.

The anti-oxidant check list

  • Eat plenty of vegetables (and a little fruit)
  • Cook with herbs and spices, such as curcumin, thyme, rosemary, cocoa, green tea – all good sources of antioxidants
  • Limit alcohol intake, although you could have a small glass of red wine a few nights a week J
  • Limit processed food and highly-refined carbohydrates, which can be powerful promoters of free radical production and oxidation
  • Try to reduce smoking
  • Take moderate amount of exercise, about 30 min of exercise five times per week
  • Get a good night sleep (about 7-8 hours)
  • If you do not feel you are able to regularly eat the optimal amount of vegetables (and fruit) you may wish to consider an antioxidant supplement with a broad range of nutrients such as vitamin C, E, zinc and selenium.