Anti-oxidants: what are they and why do we need them?
Antioxidants; We All Have Them, But What Are They?
'Antioxidant' is a word we often come across in the health world; “10 Foods High in Antioxidant”, “How to Antioxidants to your diet”. But do we actually know what they are? Do we need them? Do we have them? Do we want more of them? We’ve done the research and are here to give you the low down.
To understand antioxidants, we need to start with free radicals. According to Live Science, the body is und
er constant attack from oxidative stress. The oxygen in the body divides into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Think back to secondary school science and you’ll remember that electrons always like to be in pairs, so these single atoms, also called free radicals (!), go on a hunt to find, or rather “steal” other electrons so they can become a pair. And this is what can cause damage to cells, proteins and even DNA. These free radicals can come from just a normal metabolic process, but can also come from external sources such as x-rays, smoking cigarettes, fried foods, ozone, pollution, inflammation and many other things. Free radicals are also associated with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and many others. You can think of it as waste products from the outside making “waste” inside your body. We must also take into account that we actually do need free radicals, we just need a good balance to be healthy. It’s only when they get out of balance with your body that it becomes a problem.
So, here is where antioxidants play an important part; they are the molecules that fight the free radicals in your body. Antioxidants “donate” electrons to free radicals so they don’t have to “steal” them which in turn, can help prevent and reduce damage. If you break down the word, it might help to see clearly what the word means and what it does to your body. Anti- meaning against, and oxidants coming from the word oxidation which is the process in which oxygen combines with an element or substance. So an antioxidant is something that is against oxidising. Think of a bottle of wine that has been open for a couple of days - the wine oxidises, and loses its flavour it once had. That’s because the wine has come into contact with oxygen and that oxygen combines with the wine’s phenols and starts changing the flavours into something more nutty or vinegary than you once remember it. So by definition, an antioxidant is a compound that stops the oxidation of another compound.
Antioxidant Rich Foods
We need between 8,000 and
11,000 antioxidant units per day to reduce the risk of having our body go
into oxidative stress. So let’s say you have a banana, a salad and sandwich for lunch, thinking you had enough antioxidants to battle out and balance the free radicals in your body. Think again. Getting the right antioxidants is all about quality instead of quantity. Although bananas are good for you and a leafy salad sure is, too, we need plant based foods that are rich in vitamins E, C, that have beta-carotene, amongst many others. Plant based foods, on average, contain 64 times more antioxidants than animal based products, so it’s important to get that spinach in. The list is endless in antioxidant-rich foods, including but not limited to:
Kiwis, tomatoes, hazelnuts, broccoli, almonds - rich in vitamin E
Cauliflower, red and green peppers, sweet potatoes, cabbage - rich in vitamin C
Carrots, apricots, kale, cantaloupe, squash - rich in beta-carotene
Just think of it as the more your plate looks like a rainbow, the more your body will be able to balance out the good and the bad.
Turmeric’s Antioxidant Properties
There have been many research studies on the antioxidant effects in turmeric, or more specifically, curcumin, which is what gives turmeric that easily recognizable and bold colour. Studies show that turmeric is a good source of natural flavonoids, which have been shown to have antioxidant activity and free radical-scavenging capacity. The antioxidants in curcumin play a part in preventing and managing heart disease and aging by reducing serum levels and keeping oxidative stress at bay.
To sum all of this up in a way we can all remember it, is by knowing that everyday, your body creates free radicals, and you need to consume antioxidants in order to keep your system in balance. By doing so you can help prevent diseases and deterioration. One of the many and best ways to consume these antioxidants is through food such as turmeric. And the best way to get the most important benefits in turmeric, is to get its most key and potent ingredient: curcumin.