Antioxidants are constantly touted as the superstar benefit of certain foods. “Antioxidant-rich! Get your antioxidants here!” But, all marketing hype aside…
What are they really, and what do they do for us?
Basically, antioxidants are superheroes for the body. They might not wear capes, but they are compounds found mostly in plant-based foods who’s superpower is to neutralize unstable bad guys called free radicals.
Free radicals are born when an oxygen molecule splits up, leaving now-unpaired electrons to fend for themselves. These scorned electrons tear through the body trying to find something new to link up with (desperate, much?) and in the process, damage our healthy cells and tissues.
Free radicals occur as part of the metabolic process, so we will never NOT have any- but, things like highly processed foods, animal products, pollution, tobacco smoke, and pesticides generate more of them.
When there are more free radicals than antioxidants in the body,
oxidative stress occurs.
Oxidative stress contributes significantly to all inflammatory diseases like arthritis, and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s. It also damages our lipid and protein functions, which can contribute to the formation of heart disease plaques and mutate DNA to activate carcinogens.
Free radicals also have a big impact on accelerated aging. When they interfere with our DNA’s instructions, they cause new cells to grow incorrectly and current cells to act in uncharacteristic ways that contribute to decreased immunity, vision deterioration, memory loss and brain fog, fatigue, and premature wrinkle formation.
GOOD NEWS: Research has shown that dietary antioxidant consumption:
- enhances quality of life
- increases life span
- slows and prevents disease
- increases cognition
- decreases the severity of symptoms associated with aging
BETTER NEWS: These dietary antioxidants don’t have to be found in expensive supplements or fancy powders. Instead, simple plant-based foods pack a WHOPPING punch of antioxidants in addition to their impressive nutritional resumé of fiber, micronutrients, clean protein, and nutrient density.
Some of my favorite sources of antioxidants are:
- Berries (blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, strawberries, cranberries, cherries)
- Green and black tea
- Herbs and spices (oregano, sage, peppermint, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg)
- Veggies (spinach, broccoli, artichokes, red cabbage, asparagus)
- Legumes (soybeans, lentils, red beans, navy beans, black beans)
In a (wal)nut shell: Antioxidants are the good guys that fight off free radicals, rogue electrons that contribute to disease and poor health. Luckily, we can boost our antioxidant count naturally by prioritizing delicious plant-based foods that also happen to be super good for us in a myriad of other ways and are easy to find at the grocery store.
So, let’s eat!