Antioxidants – What are they and why are they good for us?

You may have seen a lot of talk about antioxidants in our latest monthly campaign #JuicyJuly when talking about ingredients for juices.  It is also a very hot topic in the media at the moment with lots of hype about superfoods and the health benefits they have.

So, what is an antioxidant?

An antioxidant is a nutrient (vitamin or mineral) or an enzyme (proteins in the body) that is believed to play a role in preventing the development of chronic diseases.

Our bodies normal aerobic respiration and metabolism produces chemical reactions of which a by-product is free radicals.  Free radicals are chemically active atoms or molecular fragments that have an electric charge due to an excess or deficient number of electrons.  This makes them unstable and reactive molecules that can cause cell and tissue damage because they will attack other molecules in our tissues in order to grab or donate electrons to make them neutral.  This process is called oxidation.  Oxidation is the same process that causes apples to turn brown and iron to rust.

Oxidation is a normal process within the body and healthy bodies can maintain a balance using natural antioxidants that does not result in disease.  However, aging makes it more difficult for the body to maintain this balance.  Also, some sources of free radicals come from outside of the body such as pollution, sunlight, strenuous activity, X-rays, smoking and alcohol.

An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules by neutralising the free radicals before they grab or donate electrons from our tissue cells.  During this process, the antioxidant becomes oxidised.  It is therefore very important to keep replenishing our antioxidant levels.

Vegetables and fruits are a great source of antioxidants, which is why they have a great reputation for being good for us and preventing many chronic diseases.  It is also possible to get antioxidant supplements.  However, we recommend sticking to natural sources (real food!) because as with many things in this world – too much of a good thing can be bad for us!

Here are a list of some antioxidants and where in your diet to find them:

·         Vitamin E: walnuts, almonds, seeds, olives, avocado, wheat germ, liver, leafy green vegetables

·         Vitamin C: citrus fruits, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries

·         Beta-carotene: pumpkin, peppers, spinach, kale, squash, sweet potatoes

·         Selenium: seafood, beef, pork, chicken, brazil nuts

·         Phytochemicals: blueberries, garlic, turmeric, beans

Rather than focussing on any one type of food; ‘superfood’ – the advice, as always is still to eat a well balanced diet.