· By Jamal Ramsay
Antioxidants. Important, but why?
You’ve probably heard something about antioxidants, and how important they are for health, but we are rarely told what they are or why we need them. Well here's your chance to find out!
What Is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidation is a common chemical reaction where electrons are transferred from one molecule to another. It can occur when there is an imbalance of free radicals (we’ll come onto these later!) and antioxidants in the body. The body’s cells produce harmful molecules known as free radicals, but they also naturally produces antioxidants. This is what causes those feelings of unexplained tiredness or not feeling 100%.
What Causes Oxidative Stress?
Now whilst this may sound scary, this process is actually a natural part of the aging process, and believe it or not, some levels of oxidative stress are actually good for us, like when we exercise, it can regulate tissue growth and stimulate the formation of antioxidants. It has also been shown that low levels of oxidative stress can protect the body from infection and disease.
But long-term exposure to things like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, long term obesity, diets high in fat, sugar and processed foods, pollution or excessive exposure to UV light can increase free radical (there’s that word again!!) production in the body which leads to the damage of body’s cells, proteins and DNA. This is what can contribute to accelerated aging and may play an important role in the development of cancers, cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Chronic Fatigue and even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Normally, the body can maintain a balance between antioxidants and free radicals.
OK...You've Mentioned Free Radicals Twice Now. Are You Going To Tell Me What They Are?!?!
Of course ?.
To put it simply, all molecules in the body are surrounded by electrons, and these electrons like to be in pairs (like your shoes, or your best friend). During oxidative stress our bodies release these free radicals: highly destructive molecules usually destroy cells. The reason they are highly destructive is because their molecules are usually missing an electron. We mentioned electrons like to be in pairs, and to get their partner in crime, they will take an electron from anywhere. From your DNA, from the proteins used to keep your hair healthy, your skin bouncy or your nails strong.
This destructive nature is actually good in some instances, like if you’re sick, free radicals will help to destroy foreign bacteria. But an imbalance in free radicals is what we want to avoid, otherwise it can lead to conditions like heart disease, Diabetes, Alzheimers, Parkinson's, Cancer, inflammatory disorders and even infertility. It can also be the reason why we sometimes have low periods, when we're tired, not feeling quite right and have no idea why (we've all been there!!)! So how do we prevent free radicals from destroying the good cells in our body?
Often referred to as 'superfoods' Antioxidants are the saviour of this process. Think of them as the generous Aunt in your family that always comes back with expensive gifts for you when they go travelling ?. They are molecules that have tons of electrons to spare, so they can donate an electron to neutralise or remove free radicals from the body. Now you may be thinking “wait… if an antioxidant donates an electron, and electrons need to be in pairs, then doesn’t that antioxidant become a free radical?”. This is true, but the antioxidant is able to stabilise the unpaired electron and does not become highly reactive. This process deactivates the antioxidant.
Where can I Get Antioxidants From
Foods high in Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene. That might sound like the boring foods, but here us out! These include:
- Dark Chocolate
- Fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate, cranberries, blueberries, kiwi and more.
- Vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, sweet potato, carrots, beetroot, cabbage and more
- Nuts & seeds such as walnuts, pistachios, cashews, almonds (most nuts), poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds.
- Apple juice, cider (non-alcoholic), tomato juice, pomegranate juice and pink grapefruit juice
- Teas such as black tea, green tea and other alternatives to coffee.
- Black Coffee
And like the picture above, you can combine them in new and creative ways to make an something BURSTING with antioxidants. Remember... variety is the spice of life!!
At jrny, we are made up of a team of Sports Scientists and Registered Nutritionists. We want to make sure that we’re not just putting up the pseudo-science you’d see on other sites. If any of our staff put anything on our blog that relates to your health, you can bet that it is backed by evidence-based science! It always will be. That’s our commitment to you.