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fruit and tea rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants Galore: Know What All This Cancer Assassin Is Capable Of Category: Replenish

The term ‘antioxidant’ seems to be creating a lot of buzz these days. We all know that antioxidants are good for our health but most of us do not know what exactly they are, and what their significance is.

What Are Antioxidants And Why Are They Necessary For Us?

When our body cells use oxygen, they naturally produce unstable molecules called ‘free radicals’. Exposure to UV light, cigarette smoke, use of certain drugs and environmental pollutants also increases the body’s free radical burden. In excess, these free radicals can cause serious damage to our cells. It might be disturbing for you to know that they interfere with the cell processes, and can lead to various health problems like cardiovascular disorders, inflammatory diseases, cataract and even cancer.

As the name suggests, antioxidants are substances which reverse the oxidation process in our body and hence protect our cells from the harmful effects of free radicals. Antioxidants are called free radical scavengers that either reduce the formation of free radicals, or react with and neutralize them. Their benefits are not limited to this – antioxidants even repair the damage already done by free radicals.

Our body makes some of the antioxidants on its own. These are known as endogenous antioxidants. However, our body relies primarily on external or exogenous sources for its antioxidant requirements.

Different Types Of Antioxidants

Natural antioxidants can be classified in to the following three types:

  • Antioxidant minerals– Antioxidant minerals are the cofactors of antioxidant enzymes. These include selenium, copper, iron, zinc and manganese
  • Antioxidant vitamins– Required for most metabolic processes, they include vitamin A, C, E and B
  • Phytochemicals– These comprise of chemical compounds called flavonoids and carotenoids. Generally, flavonoids give fruits and vegetables their blue, purple or deep red colour while carotenoids give yellow, orange, red and dark green colours.

Health Benefits

  • Antioxidants and cancer- Considerable research suggests that antioxidants may help prevent the cellular damage caused by free radicals that is associated with cancer. However, more research is required in this area.
  • Antioxidants and aging- Free radicals destroy the DNA, and DNA destruction is thought to be one of the processes that trigger aging. Antioxidants put a stop to such damage, and hence prevent specific age-related diseases. Moreover, they can speed up cell division and cell substitution processes, and slow down the overall effects of aging.
  • Antioxidants and cardiovascular diseases- According to the American Heart Association, antioxidants can lower the risk of heart diseases in a variety of ways by inhibiting the aggregation and adhesion of platelets in the blood, by interfering with the oxidation of bad cholesterol and by lowering the overall blood cholesterol.
  • Antioxidants and eye disorders- Numerous studies have shown that antioxidant enzymes may protect our eyes from the harmful blue light of the sun. Research also suggests that antioxidant-rich food sources may help protect against macular degeneration – a principal cause of age-related blindness.
  • Antioxidants and immunity- The free radicals thwart our immune system in many ways. They harm our immune cells and interfere with the communication between them. A diet which ensures a balanced intake of antioxidants enables the proper functioning of the immune system and boosts immunity.

Best Food Sources Of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are found in loads in fruits and vegetables. Other foods such as nuts, herbs, grains, and some meat, poultry and fish are also rich in antioxidants.

  • Beta-carotene- It is found in many orange coloured fruits and vegetables and in some green leafy vegetables as well. Foods rich in beta-carotene are:
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Spinach
    • Carrots
    • Cantaloupe
    • Squash
    • Basil
    • Coriander
    • Mangoes
    • Kale
    • Apricots
    • Pumpkins
  • Lycopene- The powerful antioxidant lycopene is found in many foods including:
  • Tomatoes
  • Guavas
  • Apricots
  • Papaya
  • Watermelons
  • Pink grapefruit
  • Blood oranges
  • Vitamins– Rich sources of antioxidant vitamins are:
Vitamin A Carrots, sweet potatoes, milk, egg yolks, liver, mozzarella cheese
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, cereals, beef, poultry, fish, alfalfa
Vitamin E Mangoes, nuts, broccoli, dandelion and oils like wheat germ, safflower, soyabean and corn
  • Minerals- The most well-known mineral with antioxidant activities is selenium. The top sources of selenium are as:
    • Chia seeds
    • Tuna
    • Meats
    • Mustard seeds
    • Lima beans
    • Brazil nuts
    • Cabbage
    • Asparagus
    • Garlic
  • Flavonoids- Flavonoids are a remarkable group of phytonutrients that play different roles in the upkeep of human health. They are present in high concentrations in the following:
      • Green tea
      • Berries
      • Parsley
      • Brussel sprouts
      • Bell peppers
      • Beans
      • Legumes
      • Onions
      • Apples
      • Citrus fruits
      • Red wine

The Bottom Line:

Research continues to show that food sources rich in antioxidants are potentially active in disease risk reduction, and are highly beneficial to the overall human health. So, be sure to include a wide array of antioxidant foods in your daily diet, and remember organic and fresh foods are always the best!

References:

  1. https://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1379499307_Hamid%20et%20al.pdf
  2. Healthy Heart: Antioxidants- By Gabriel Chavez
  3. https://www.foodinsight.org/Functional_Foods_Fact_Sheet_Antioxidants

 

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