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What Do Antioxidants Really Do?

September 20, 2018

The word "antioxidant" has become extremely common in health circles. It’s one of the most popular buzzwords that catches the attention of health-conscious consumers, but many people really do not understand what an antioxidant is and how it works in the body.

An ever-growing body of research showing that antioxidants are one of the most important dietary compounds to help squash accelerated aging and even some chronic diseases. But not all antioxidants work the same way. So, read on and find out what exactly antioxidants are, how they fight the bad stuff in your body, and which antioxidants are the best for you to consume (and get from supplements).

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds naturally found in foods (especially plants) that stop or delay damage to the cells. They help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals — unstable atoms that can wreak havoc on the body. Antioxidants help rid the body of free radicals before they begin to cause harm (inflammation or disease). Antioxidants are released from the foods we eat through digestion and travel through the bloodstream and into cells where they do their work on free radicals.

What Are Oxidation and Oxidative Stress in the Body?

  • Oxidation: Antioxidants prevent a chemical process known as oxidation, which is a natural part of living and aging, that involves the loss of electrons from atoms and molecules. 
  • Oxidative Stress: When free radicals are produced in excess, it results in a phenomenon called oxidative stress — an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Oxidative stress is at the root of many illnesses and health conditions.

Be Aware That Not All Antioxidants Are Created Equal 

There is conflicting data on whether antioxidants can help prevent or mitigate the symptoms of cancer, illness, or other chronic diseases, making it difficult to know exactly what to buy. Which type of antioxidant is going to be best at knocking out free radicals and oxidative stress?

The Best Antioxidants

Here is a list of foods that contain what is considered some of the top antioxidant oxidative stress fighting powers. Top healing and immunity-boosting antioxidants include: vitamins C and E, CoQ10, lipoic acid, glutathione, flavonoids (antioxidants that come from plants), carotenoids, and selenium. All the foods in the following list contain a mixture of these antioxidants. These are the ones to have in your grocery cart when shopping that have been proven to help slow the signs of aging, support our heart and brain function, and support healthy skin and vision.

Top Foods with the Highest Amounts of Antioxidant Power: 

  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Blackberries
  • Wild Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Citrus Fruits (picked ripe from the tree, in season)
  • Cranberries
  • Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale)
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Dried Fruit (without sulfate)
  • Elderberries
  • Garlic (raw, unheated, chopped) and Onions
  • Ginger Root
  • Goji Berries
  • Greens (phytochemical-rich: collard greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, all cruciferous vegetables, beet greens, watercress)
  • Kidney Beans
  • Organic Red Grapes
  • Sesame and Black Seed Oil
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes (cooked is best)
  • Tea (Organic Green and Black or Matcha Tea)
  • Turmeric/Curcumin
  • Walnuts
  • Winter Squash

Add some of the items on this list to your next shopping trip. It's great if the food you buy has "antioxidant" on the label, but keep in mind that the best antioxidants come from real, whole foods. Also remember that antioxidants may not only help keep healthy troubles at bay — they could help the brain to function better, keep your heart pumping strong and your vision sharp, slow cellular aging, detoxify your body and blood, fight inflammation, and battle chronic fatigue. So load up that shopping cart!

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