Everything You Need to Know About Antioxidants

Woman eating a bowl of antioxidants in cereal

Now more than ever we understand the importance of eating healthy, looking after our immune system and building a strong internal defense system. That’s where antioxidants come in! You have probably heard of antioxidants, but may be unsure about what they are and what they actually do. In this article you will learn everything there is to know about antioxidants, free radicals and antioxidant foods, oh my, so that you can ensure your body is building the protection it needs.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances that work interactively inside and outside of the body’s cells, protecting cell membranes from the damaging effects of highly reactive molecules called free radicals. This has led to antioxidants being known by another name – free radical scavengers.

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are “charged” molecules that run riot throughout the body, causing irreparable damage to your cells (including your DNA or genetic blueprint). They come from outside sources such as cigarette smoke, pollutants, radiation and even sunlight and can drive harmful diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Free radical molecules are also the end-product of normal breathing and energy production within the body’s cells. Whilst oxygen is of course necessary for life, too much of it can damage our tissues. Oxidative damage is a sort of biological “rusting”, and exactly why we have a sophisticated in-built antioxidant defense system working on our behalf.

What do antioxidants do?

To put it simply, antioxidants protect us. They protect our cells from these harmful free radicals and “break the chain” of potential chemical destruction within the body to prevent less serious side effects of reduced antioxidant protection such as ageing.

Important antioxidants :

Antioxidants are either water-soluble or fat-soluble, and we need both to effectively protect cells. These important antioxidants have their own varying benefits and include…

  • Glutathione – known as the “master antioxidant”, it’s found in every single cell of your body, and maximises the actions of all other antioxidants, as well as being important for healthy liver function and longevity.
  • Superoxide dismutase (SOD) – major antioxidant produced in the body that has been found to repair damage to cells which helps reduce the visible side effects of ageing such as wrinkles and fine lines.
  • CoQ10 – one of the most powerful antioxidants, effective in protecting the heart, arteries and blood vessels, as well as slowing down premature aging.
  • Astaxanthin – linked to improved blood flow, and lowering oxidative stress in smokers and people who are overweight.
  • Pycnogenol – reduces signs of ageing, improves heart health and can be used to treat metabolic syndrome and related disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  • Selenium – an important antioxidant that has been well studied and documented as the essential cancer-protecting nutrient.
  • Alpha-lipoic acid – draws on the cells ability to “protect” and increases the effectiveness of other antioxidants, such as vitamin E and glutathione. Unlike any other antioxidant, it dissolves and works in both water and fats, helping to recycle both vitamin C (a water-soluble antioxidant) and vitamin E (a fat-soluble antioxidant).

There are a wide variety of antioxidant vitamins which have a whole host of health benefits, including the vitamin C antioxidant helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and vitamin E antioxidant helping to stop free radicals attacking the fatty acids in a cell’s lining. To find out even more about vitamins and why they are important for our health read our insightful Guide to Essential Vitamins.

Where can we get antioxidants from?

The body produces certain vital antioxidants. It’s this internal antioxidant defense system that enables us to thrive in an ever-increasing challenging and toxic world. However, the body also needs, and effectively uses, a multitude of antioxidant substances found readily in a natural wholefoods diet.

Antioxidant foods

Eating a natural wholefood diet with a wide variety of foods is the key to obtaining all the antioxidant protection you need. The antioxidant support on offer in a plant-based diet extends way beyond the amount found in many antioxidant supplements. These antioxidant rich foods include:

  • Blueberries antioxidants – blueberries have up to 9.2 mmol of antioxidants per 100 grams. The antioxidants in blueberries, especially a type called anthocyanins, have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • Kale – much like broccoli and cauliflower, kale is a cruciferous vegetable, rich in vitamins A, K and C. It also contains 2.7 mmol of antioxidants per 100 grams making it one of the most antioxidant rich vegetables you can consume.
  • Fruits high in antioxidants include raspberries, goji berries and strawberries. The more red a fruit is, the higher the levels of anthocyanins it has, as it’s this type of antioxidant which gives them their red colour.
  • Dark chocolate antioxidants – Yes you read that right, dark chocolate can actually be good for you! Its organic compound is made up of powerful antioxidants including flavanols and polyphenols which help to fight the damage to cells that free radicals can cause. If you go loco for coco why not try our Nakd Double Chocolish or Cocoa Delight fruit and nut bar.
  • Beans – another example of polyphenol rich foods. This versatile ingredient can be incorporated into your vegan diet in a number of ways, whilst also helping to protect your cells from free radicals. Now that’s a clever snack!
  • Spinach – a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin – two antioxidants that may help protect your eyes. It’s a good thing then, that you can add spinach to any dish as an extra flavour, or perfect side salad.

There we have it! Nakd’s guide to what antioxidants are, why we need them and most importantly, how you can ensure your body is building a strong defense system. From the antioxidants that our bodies naturally produce to fight free radicals, to the amazing antioxidant rich foods you can add to your diet, you can ensure you’re staying fighting fit and building a strong immune system!

For even more useful health related articles, check out our Nakd blog and discover everything from Immune Boosting Foods, to Natural Sources of Vitamin D and the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics.

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