15 Things You Didn’t Know About Antioxidants
There’s no doubt that you’ve heard the hype about antioxidants in recent years. But, what exactly are they?
Well, antioxidants are molecules that prevent the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a process that occurs in our body all the time, but it produces free radicals which can play a role in damaging cells. These free radicals have come to be thought of as the villain of our bodies. They have been implicated in dozens of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis and more.
So, antioxidants are like the hero of the body that can help to prevent these illnesses. Thankfully, they’re found in the foods we consume.
But, it’s not that simple. The body is very complex and there’s so much more to antioxidants and free radicals than you might think. Here are 15 things you didn’t know about antioxidants.
1. Free radicals are not all that bad
Despite the fact that antioxidants fight them, free radicals (also known as oxidants) are not as bad as they’re made out to be. Sure, they’ve been linked to cell damage and adverse DNA mutations, but free radicals are a natural part of our body’s processes. Respiration itself generates free radicals, so there’s no way to prevent them from forming in our bodies.
Additionally, they can be beneficial. For example, when you contract a bacterial infection, your immune cells fire free radicals onto the invading bacteria in order to kill them.
So, our bodies actually need free radicals. It’s only when there’s a free radical overload that it can lead to disease.
2. How exactly antioxidants neutralize free radicals
So, how exactly do antioxidants work?
Well, they neutralize free radicals either by providing an extra electron (since free radicals only contain one electron, this renders them unstable), or by breaking down the free radical molecule to render it harmless.
3. Antioxidants aren’t only found in fruits and vegetables
We’re constantly bombarded by messages that we need to eat blueberries, pomegranate, kale and other fruits or vegetables to get antioxidants. Of course, fruits and vegetables do contain a variety of antioxidants, but they’re not the only food items that do.
The entire plant kingdom (including beans, nuts and seeds) contain antioxidants. This is because plants need to produce antioxidants to fight against the free radicals produced by UV rays.
Grains also contain antioxidants, but you probably won’t reap the benefits from that bread in your kitchen because it’s been refined to the point that it loses its benefits. Even meat, dairy products and eggs contain antioxidants (when they come from grass-fed animals).