Updated: May 24
You've heard of them. You know they're a good thing. And you've probably even seen them added to things such as your daily skin cream or perhaps your favorite can of hard seltzer.
So you've gone as far as rubbing them all over your face or chugging them down on a fun night out...
...but what actually are they?
Free radicals have the potential to damage our bodily cells and tissues; and if the body is unable to regulate them, a condition known as "oxidative stress" can occur.
Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in diseases such cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cataracts, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
ANTIOXIDANTS COMBAT THIS PROCESS by destroying reactive oxygen molecules before they can do excessive cellular harm to our bodies!
So what can you do to obtain enough of these super nutrients?
The best way to ensure you’re consuming a proper amount of antioxidants is simply by eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods!
Six Important Antioxidant Nutrients include:
Zinc is an essential trace mineral needed by hundreds of enzymes in the body to help perform crucial chemical reactions which keep us alive and well. Zinc specifically helps protect us from free-radical damage through its function with the enzyme "superoxide dismutase", a free-radical scavenger which defends the body against oxidative stress.
Example food sources: red meat, seafood, pork, lamb, beans, pumpkin seeds
2. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin known to protect our cell membranes and tissue linings by neutralizing harmful free radicals. Through its antioxidants abilities, this vitamin is able to protect the body from irritants such as smoke and other pollutants, and may even be helpful in preventing problems such as ulcers and atherosclerosis.
Example food sources: beef liver, egg yolks, carrots, dairy, mustard greens
There are nearly 600 known carotenoids, of which beta-carotene and around 50 others can be converted to vitamin A in the body. However, the other ~550 carotenoids which do not get converted still serve a great purpose, as they circulate in the blood and reach tissues where they also function as antioxidants! Beta-carotene, as well as the hundreds of other carotenoid phytonutrients, play a role in protecting cell membranes from damage by free radicals.
Example food sources: carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, leafy greens, apricots
4. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin which has been shown to scavenge reactive oxygen molecules in white blood cells, lungs, and the stomach mucosa. Vitamin C also aids the function of other nutrients. For example, after vitamin E is used to eliminate free radicals, it's antioxidant power can be restored with the help of vitamin C!
Example food sources: citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, broccoli, spinach
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin which functions primarily as an antioxidant.
It works by neutralizing free radicals before they damage unsaturated fatty acids in cell membranes. By protecting these membranes, vitamin E also helps maintain the health of red blood cells, the immune system, lungs and nervous tissue.
Example food sources: avocado, peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, kiwi
Selenium is a trace mineral which is part of the enzyme "glutathione peroxidase", a selenium-containing enzyme which protects us from oxidative damage by neutralizing peroxides in the body.
While selenium and other antioxidant nutrients are supplied by the foods we eat, Glutathione (as well as Lipoic Acid) are antioxidants which are naturally produced by the body. However, in order to act as an antioxidant, glutathione requires the use of selenium to cycle back and forth between it's two forms:
GSH: reduced form which has full antioxidant potential
GSSH: form it becomes after interacting with other molecules (such as free radicals)
Example food sources: seafood, liver, kidney, eggs, chicken, beef, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread
As with most nutrients, the best way to consume antioxidants is by eating a plentiful, diverse diet full of quality proteins, fruits & vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats! Not only will these foods provide you with antioxidants, they'll also help give your body with the nourishment it needs to feel good and function well!
Disclaimer: While supplemental forms of antioxidants can be beneficial under certain circumstances, they should be used under a physician’s care. Supplementing with high doses of beta-carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers, and high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer and one type of stroke. Antioxidant supplements may also interact with the use of some medications. (1)