Antioxidants explained: what do they do?
Antioxidants are important vitamins and minerals that are found in many of the foods we eat – especially in plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables. Among the most important and well-known antioxidants are:
- carotenoids (such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin)
- coenzyme Q10 and
- antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E.
But what do antioxidants do for the body? They help prevent and repair damage to our cells and DNA that has occurred due to free radicals. To do this, they give electrons to free radicals, neutralising them in the process.
What is a free radical?
Free radicals, also known as ‘oxidants’, are all around us in the atmosphere. They are found in cigarette smoke, sunlight and air pollution, for example – but our bodies also create them in order to eliminate harmful bacteria and infections.
Free radicals pose a threat to us because they cause oxidative stress and thereby damage the cells in our bodies. In this way, they catalyse the ageing of our bodies and can lead to various diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and various eye diseases.
How can I increase antioxidants in my body?
The good news is you can somewhat prevent the damage caused by free radicals by avoiding cigarettes, excessive sun exposure and junk food. Ultimately, what you eat – that is, how many antioxidants you consume – can significantly influence free-radical damage in your body.
If you would like to increase your antioxidant intake generally, we’ve got you covered. Here’s where you can cleverly introduce more antioxidants into your meals, regardless of your diet. Vegans, veggies and meat-eaters – there’s something for everyone!
- Carotenoids: Opt for bright fruit and veg – especially red, yellow, orange and green leafy vegetables. Our recommendation: oranges, carrots, spinach and sweet potato.
- Flavenoids: Don’t hold back on these. Add some onions, broccoli, berries, black tea or citrus fruits to your favourite dishes and drinks.
- Vitamin C: Your vitamin C intake comes exclusively from the foods you eat – so make it count! Eat plenty of peppers, cauliflower, strawberries, kale and mango to boost your vitamin C levels.
- Vitamin E: One of the often-overlooked antioxidant vitamins: it’s time to add almonds, avocado, peanuts, sweet potato or spinach to your shopping list.
Selenium: This powerful antioxidant is found in fish, shellfish, Brazil nuts, mushrooms and chia seeds.
Antioxidant vitamins: what is the best antioxidant supplement?
If you are considering taking antioxidant supplements – whether antioxidant pills or antioxidant powder – you should never take them to replace a vitamin- and mineral-rich diet. However, while antioxidant supplements can’t achieve miracles, they are a great addition to a healthy diet filled with colourful fruit, vegetables, protein, carbohydrates and other macronutrients.
In terms of recommended antioxidant vitamins, vitamin C is celebrated for its many health benefits. Its role in fighting infections, healing wounds and in producing collagen, hormones and chemical messengers in the body make it a formidable antioxidant. If you are concerned about not receiving enough vitamin C in your diet, you should inquire about the benefits of taking vitamin C supplements with a doctor or professional nutrition expert.
Please note: Antioxidant supplements should be taken with caution. Studies have indicated that high doses of particular antioxidants may be linked to certain health issues. For example, a high dose of antioxidant vitamins – in particular, of vitamin E – could increase the risk of prostate cancer and stroke in some people.