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WHAT ARE ANTIOXIDANTS?

25 July 2022 Jenna Amos

Antioxidants frequently make health headlines for their disease preventing and recovery promoting properties. But what exactly is an antioxidant? Read on for a quick science lesson and some delicious sources.

 

Put simply, antioxidants are substances, found mostly in plant foods, that protect our cells from damage. They come in the form of Vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, and the less familiar lycopene and anthocyanins.


Our bodies make chemicals called free radicals as a byproduct of everything from essential functions like breathing, to activities like an intense workout or even exposure to sunlight or pollution. In high amounts, these free radicals cause damage to cells, which has been associated with everything from muscle soreness to more severe conditions like some cancers and heart disease. Antioxidants fight these free radicals and in turn protect our cells from damage.


Fruits and veggies are top sources of antioxidants. Consuming a variety of produce colors and types ensures adequate antioxidant diversity. Red, purple and blue produce like tart cherries and blueberries contain high levels of anthocyanins. In fact, tart cherries have the highest antioxidant levels of any superfruit. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are potent sources of lutein and bell peppers pack a Vitamin C punch. 


Antioxidants supplements may not always live up to the hype compared to whole food like veggies and 100% fruit juice. Many trials have found that high doses of some antioxidant supplements may not prevent disease, including vitamin E, Vitamin C and selenium, and in a few cases, may cause more harm. Further, some supplements may even interact with prescribed medications. Before adding a supplement to your routine, always check with your medical provider for safety.


Fruits, veggies and 100% juices prove to be powerhouses of our diet thanks to their antioxidant activity. Focus on fruit and veggie consumption - at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups veggies daily. Throw a handful of berries into a smoothie, add a side salad to meals, and recover post workout with tart cherry juice - the options are endless!  


Thanks to our Contributing Dietitian, Jenna Amos, RDN, for this post.

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