A Simple Breakdown of How Antioxidants Work

June 12, 2016 - 3 minutes read

Closeup of blueberries containing antioxidants

Alongside probiotics, high in fibre, and trans-fat free, the term anti-oxidant may be one of the most frequently used word in all of food advertising; yet, do you know what these superfood compounds actually do?

Read on for a very basic breakdown of what these molecules are responsible for and why you should add them to your diet every day to keep your body running at top speed.

What do antioxidants do?

Quite literally, antioxidants are responsible for doing exactly what their name says: they inhibit a process called oxidation – which, put simply, occurs when molecules in the body interact to undergo a chemical reaction that causes the electrons (negatively charged atoms) from one molecule to be transferred to another molecule. The same sort of thing happens when you see rust form on metal or when a freshly cut apple turns brown.

The problem with this occurring too often is that byproducts called free radicals are produced. These highly reactive substances, if left unregulated, can cause the body to go into oxidative stress.

Free radicals are like that first block in a series of dominoes – once the first one is set off, it starts a group of chain reactions. In the case of this occurring within your body, these reactions can cause damage or even death to affected cells, which has been known to play a role in the acquisition of heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative diseases.

Berries containing antioxidants on wooden background

How do antioxidants work?

Antioxidants help avoid this outcome by stopping these chain reactions through one of the following means:

  1. they remove the reactive free radicals; or
  2. they become oxidized themselves and stop the chain reactions from continuing

Both avenues can save a cell from being damaged and therefore, eating foods with anti-oxidative properties has been linked to both cancer and heart disease prevention.

It’s basically the same thing when you put lime juice on the browning apple or wax on a car – it creates a protective mechanism, lessening the exposure of the food or metal to oxidative compounds.

Foods containing antioxidants

Antioxidants are found naturally in vitamins A, C, and E; in plant chemicals like flavanoids and carotenoids; and in minerals such as selenium. In English, that means you can find them in these types of food:

Vegetables:
Leafy greens including kale, spinach, and cabbage
Broccoli, brussel sprouts, potatoes, and green and red bell peppers
Tomatoes and tomato juice

Fruits:
Citrus fruits including oranges and grapefruits
Cantaloupe, kiwi, mango, papaya, pomegranates, and avocado
Berries including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries

Nuts and Legumes:
Beans, almonds, and sunflower seeds

Tea:
Most commonly: green tea

So eat your leafy greens, drink your tea and don’t let your body rust up like a Tin Man in Oz.