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What Are Antioxidants | Hea Boosters

Reviewed by : Aashima Gupta, Clinical Dietitian.

Before we start understanding what antioxidants are and why we need them, let’s understand what oxidation is and how it affects us.

Oxidation is a chemical reaction that produces free radicals. Free radicals are constantly formed in the body, are essential for basic functions, even those of the immune system, since they help attack intruders and invaders entering the body (like bacteria, viruses etc). However, these free radicals can also cause harm if they increase in number.

When the number of free radicals becomes excessive in the body, they start damaging your DNA, protein and fatty tissues. Such free radicals need to be neutralised, and that function is performed by antioxidants. Maintaining a balance between free radicals and antioxidants is crucial to prevent your body from entering a state known as 'oxidative stress', which can cause severe damage to your cells and DNA.

Several lifestyle and environmental factors can increase the production of free radicals on the body. Some of these include:

  • air pollution
  • cigarette smoke
  • alcohol intake
  • antioxidant deficiency

To avoid oxidative stress, the body maintains complex systems of overlapping antioxidants, most of which are typically obtained from the diet. 

Types of antioxidants:

Antioxidants aren’t just one unique substance; they are a range of compounds that are largely sourced from our diet. 

Antioxidants can be categorized as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Water-soluble antioxidants work in the fluid inside and outside cells, whereas fat-soluble antioxidants act primarily on cell membranes.

Important dietary antioxidants include:

  • Vitamin C - A water-soluble antioxidant and an essential dietary nutrient.
  • Vitamin E: A fat-soluble antioxidant that plays a significant role in shielding cell membranes against oxidative damage. Fat-soluble vitamins fight cell damage and prevent oxidation.
  • Vitamin A: Vitamin A has multiple functions: it is important for growth and development, for the maintenance of the immune system, and for good vision.

Flavonoids, flavones, catechins, phytoestrogens, glucosinolates and carotenoids are other types of dietary antioxidants. These are typically found in plant-based foods.

Food sources for antioxidants:

  • Strawberries: These are the most versatile fruits on the planet and are rich in antioxidants, particularly Vitamin C. 100g of strawberries contain 58.8 mg of Vitamin C. Pregnant and lactating women require around 60 to 80 mg/d of Vitamin C, which is equivalent to half a bowl of strawberries. They also contain anthocyanins, which give them their red colour. 
  • Beans: Half a cup of red beans yields 13,727 antioxidants; red kidney beans have 13,259; pinto beans, 11,864; and black beans, 4,191. They contain kaempferol which is known for reducing chronic inflammation and cancer growth. 
  • Spinach: High in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, plus incredibly low in calories. Spinach contains 0.9 mmol of antioxidants per 100 gram. They also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which protect the eyes from UV light and other harmful wavelengths.

Knowing which foods have the most antioxidants help as the body needs all the help it can get to prevent the damage that can be caused by free radicals. Therefore, antioxidants are important for the body to function normally. 

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