Antioxidants can do many things – fight cancer, neurodegeneration, and inflammation. How do these detoxifying molecules work, and how can you incorporate more of them into your diet?
What exactly are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that prevent damage by unstable molecules. These unstable molecules, called free radicals, harm healthy cells, and can lead to inflammation. While the body makes some antioxidants by itself, they can also be obtained by eating antioxidant-rich foods, herbs, and vitamins. Some popular antioxidants include vitamins C & E, phytonutrients, resveratrol, carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene, and some fruits and vegetables (notably berries, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach). While antioxidants can help prevent diseases such as cancer and neurodegenerative disorders (which have been linked to increased levels of oxidative damage and inflammation), research also shows that consuming antioxidant-rich foods can:
- Promote detox in the body
- Protect against heart disease & stroke
- Promote a longer life span
- Improve skin
- Aid in digestion
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are uncharged molecules in the body that cause damage to cells, proteins, and DNA. They can increase in production due to factors such as environmental pollutants, radiation, certain drugs, pesticides, stress, and even some foods. During normal chemical processes, free radicals lose one of their electrons, making them extremely unstable and highly reactive. In an effort to find a match for their unpaired electron (in order to gain back stability), they attempt to steal electrons from the body’s healthy cells, subsequently damaging the healthy cell in the process. Free radicals, however, also play an important function in killing bacteria. It’s important to note that it’s only when the balance gets disrupted between free radicals and antioxidants that trouble can occur.
How exactly do antioxidants fight against free radicals?
Antioxidants help to keep free radicals in check by preventing them from taking electrons from healthy cells, and help the body repair those cells that are damaged by free radicals. How? Antioxidants are able to give an electron to a free radical without becoming destabilized, thereby neutralizing the free radical and putting the chain reaction to a halt. In fact, antioxidants can stop up to 99% of free radicals from damaging the body’s cells.
How can I get more antioxidants in my diet?
Some antioxidant-rich foods that I enjoy eating often include:
- Red raspberries
- Dark chocolate
- Herbs such as turmeric, cinnamon, clove, oregano, cocoa, basil & ginger
How can you find the antioxidant content in food?
Antioxidants in food can be determined by their ORAC score, which stands for oxygen radical absorption capacity. This score assesses the ability of a plant to eliminate free radicals. Foods with higher ORAC scores have greater antioxidant capacity, and more effectively neutralize harmful free radicals. Research has shown that the body can use abut 3000-5000 ORAC units per day. Anything over that amount is simply excreted by the kidneys. Also, check out this article on coffee fruit – an uncommonly eaten berry with a super high ORAC score.