Antioxidants 101 | Have you ever wondered what antioxidants are? When have you first heard about them? Do you know what their role is?
From the moment I became a vegetarian, I’ve been bombed with information from „the new world” in which I entered. I became a devoted label reader and I started to gradually realize the importance of nutrition in my life.
In my informational enthusiasm, I encountered several notions of which I have never heard about until then, and every time I wanted to deepen my knowledge, my girlfriend helped me (she’s already a guru in this domain), but in time, I realized there is no universal recipe available and each person has to choose his/her own way, through documentation, trials, and personal efforts.
Not even a renowned nutritionist can assure you that a solution or another is the best for you because the body adapts in time and relates to the external environment and, obviously, to the choices you make. Of course, there are some universal principles you have to follow in order to have a healthy lifestyle.
That’s why I assumed a principle, of not eating something which I don’t understand what is made of or how it affects me. As my girlfriend would say: “If I don’t know an ingredient (for example titanium dioxide in horseradish paste ?!?!?!), why would I introduce it in my body?
Unfortunately, no matter how much attention we pay to nutrition, we are exposed on a daily basis to toxic impurities, cigarette smoke and other elements which affect our health.
What do all these things have in common? Nothing at first sight, but all those toxic elements put in motion the defense system of the body, creating the necessity for protective nutritional elements, such as antioxidants.
As I said before, there is toxic waste in our organism, thrown there from the external environment, and harms our body by producing biochemical substances called free radicals. These free radicals attack cell membrane, damaging it and ultimately even killing the cell.
Without this „free antivirus” called the immune system, introducing even a small amount of free radicals in the body would be fatal. The immune system is the one that diminishes the pollution damage on or body and protects it of infections. A special process in protecting the organism of the dangers provided by the free radicals and oxidation process comes from the synergic action of some enzymes and nutritional substances, we know as antioxidants.
Now that you know some basic info about antioxidants, let’s talk about nutrition.
Unfortunately, we know it’s relatively hard to change the place you live in or the places that get you exposed to pollution, so the biggest change can be concentrated on nutrition.
We live a busy and stressful life and allowing free radicals to develop can lead to many illnesses. Studies in the field have revealed that antioxidants can inactivate free radicals and stop the occurrence of any illness, having also an important role in the anti-aging process.
Fortunately, there are many options to ensure our daily intake of antioxidants. The simplest approach consists of focusing on fruits and vegetables with a high content of selenium and A, C and E vitamins. In my case, I benefit from fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables thanks to my parents’ orchard. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for everyone, but for tips on how to have a healthy, budget-friendly vegetarian diet, you can read the article
In my case, I benefit from fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables thanks to my parents’ orchard. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for everyone, but for tips on how to have a healthy, budget-friendly vegetarian diet, you can read the article How much does a vegetarian diet really cost?.
What are the most powerful antioxidants?
Selenium can be found in celery, garlic, brans, peas and fish. It has been shown that selenium has an important role in the body, being an extremely strong antioxidant.
Beta-carotene (Vitamin A source) can be found in spinach, carrots, and greens. The antioxidant properties of vitamin A are very important in lung defense, skin and eye health.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is found in pepper, citrus fruits, broccoli and many other fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C helps the immune system and body regeneration.
Vitamin E (d-alfa-tocopherol) can be found in veg oils, nuts and seeds, some plants, green vegetables, eggs and wheat germs. It is a powerful antioxidant that prevents damage to both lipids and essential oils, including omega-3 fatty acids and helps the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant molecule.
Lipoic acid is present in almost all foods, but slightly more so in spinach, broccoli, and yeast extract.
Coenzyme Q10 can be found in our body and has the role of transporting energy to cells. It has a great anti-aging power.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant which can be found in tomatoes and melons. Tip: Cooked tomatoes have more lycopene than raw ones!
Resveratrol can be found in grapes, especially in dark ones. It’s a great antioxidant with anti-aging properties.
Foods rich in antioxidants
- foods rich in beta-carotene: carrots, spinach, apricots, peaches, tomatoes, mango, peppers, oatmeal, papaya etc.
- foods rich in vitamin C: parsley and other herbs, goji, berries, sea buckthorn berries, cranberries, cruciferous, kiwi etc.
- foods rich in vitamin E: nuts and seeds, kale, avocado, olives etc.
- spices: turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, saffron etc.
Of course, there are many other fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, rich in antioxidants. Tip: Eat many fruits and veggies, mostly raw and add healthy fats to your diet.
Tips for cooking and storing foods
- Don’t eat wilted herbs
- Avoid using excess water when cooking
- Avoid cooking at very high temperatures
- Store foods in air-tight containers
- Don’t buy pre-chopped foods
- Don’t store foods in fridge for long periods of time
- Eat fresh!
Other useful resources about antioxidants
31 Foods to fight free radical damage
The faster we realize the importance of nutrition and the impact external environment has on our health, we can make changes that will lead us to live a longer, healthier life. Nowadays, when we are bombed with information, choices and possibilities regarding nutrition, I advise you to slow down the pace a little, start reading more and increase your knowledge and choose what’s best for YOU!