Everything You Need to Know About Antioxidants
What are antioxidants and why are they important?
You may have heard people talk about antioxidants, and you may have heard that they are beneficial, but what exactly are they? And why do they get all the hype that they do?
An antioxidant is a substance that can prevent or slow damage to the cells in the body. It does this by stabilizing free radicals, which are harmful molecules that the body produces due to environmental and other pressures. By preventing damage to the cells in the body, antioxidants may protect your body against cancer, stroke, heart disease, and other diseases.
Food Sources Rich in Antioxidants
There may be foods you are already regularly eating that contain high levels of antioxidants, and you may not even know it! Vitamins A, C and E, and the minerals copper, zinc and selenium all work as antioxidants. These vitamins and minerals are found in many foods, and below is a list of some of the foods highest in antioxidants.
Most fruits contain high levels of antioxidants. Here is a list of some common fruits high in antioxidants to get you started!
There are also many vegetables that are high in antioxidants. Here is a list of vegetables with some of the highest antioxidant content:
While fruits and vegetables are great sources of antioxidants, there are many other common foods that contain antioxidants, as well as other important nutrients. Here are a few!
Beans. Black beans, pinto beans, red beans, and red kidney beans are highest in antioxidants.
Nuts. Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, and pecans contain significant amounts of antioxidants.
Seeds. Sunflower seeds, flax seeds, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds are rich in antioxidants.
Although antioxidant supplements exist, it is typically best to eat foods rich in antioxidants instead because supplements on their own have not been shown to provide substantial health benefits. In fact, your body needs some free radicals to function, for instance in fighting infections, so using high doses of antioxidants aimed to get rid of them completely may actually do more harm than good. Getting antioxidants from food will give you just the right amount!
Many foods high in antioxidants contain other important nutrients that benefit the body. For example, spinach contains fiber, which promotes gut health and helps control cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It also contains vitamins A, C, and K, folic acid, iron, and calcium - all of which play essential rolls in the body. Therefore, the benefits of a diet high in fruits and vegetables are not just a result of antioxidants, but all of the healthy nutrients these foods have to offer. Additionally, diseases and conditions that antioxidants may help prevent often develop over decades, so antioxidant supplements would need to be taken for several years before having any significant influence on the body.
Antioxidants play an important role in protecting the body, but taking them in supplement form may not be necessary. As long as you are consuming a balanced diet you are likely getting enough antioxidants as well as many essential vitamins and minerals that also aid in protecting the body. Try to consume a variety of foods in your diet to make sure you are not only getting enough antioxidants, but other essential nutrients as well!
Stay healthy and happy eating!
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Written by: Haiden Gonzales, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
2. Mayo Clinic