Why are Antioxidants Important?
You’ve probably heard antioxidants, and that they have some great health benefits. But what exactly are they, how do they function in my body, and how can I make sure I am getting enough?
How Antioxidants work
To understand antioxidants, let’s start with what we learned in science class about atoms. Atoms are surrounded by electrons that orbit the atom in layers. For a molecule to remain stable, it must contain the right number of electrons. If not, it will turn into a “free radical.” Oxidation is the chemical reaction that can yield free radicals, which becomes harmful when the levels become too high. Free radicals constantly look to bind with another atom or molecule to become stable. Although a natural byproduct of normal metabolism, free radicals are a highly reactive and unstable.
Free radicals can damage your DNA, causing mutations that can increase your risk of many health conditions including:
- heart disease
- autoimmune diseases
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
Exposure to air pollution, heavy metals, and cigarette smoke can also increase free radical damage. Free radicals also cause symptoms of aging, such as wrinkles.
The role of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are our “free-radical fighters!” They interact with and neutralize free radicals and prevent them from causing damage. The body makes some of the antioxidants that it uses to neutralize free radicals, and many are found in foods.
Antioxidants from Food
We get antioxidants from many of the chemicals from plants, called phytochemicals. These nutrients stop the formation of free radicals and may reduce the damage they would cause in the body. Many nutrient-dense foods are rich in antioxidants, including certain types of vegetables, nuts and berries. These diets have been linked with a lower risk of many diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. See a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Antioxidants also play a role in helping to repair DNA and maintain the health of cells, while combatting free radicals that cause various diseases.
Some foods high in Antioxidants include:
- goji berries
- dark chocolate
- red cabbage
- green tea
Also, many spices high in flavonoids contain antioxidants including:
- Mexican oregano
- celery seeds
Getting enough Antioxidants
Physicians recommend consuming 8-11,000 antioxidant units a day from our food. There are easy ways to make sure you’re getting the right amount of antioxidants, and stay protected from free radicals.
This video from nutritionfacts.org gives a great visual about the recommended daily amount of antioxidants.
Remember to always speak to your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.