Adequate nutrition is connected to maintaining good health, which is why it’s important to get plenty of nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables. The better you understand your body’s nutritional needs, the easier it is to plan healthy meals. You’re likely aware of essential vitamins and minerals, but other key nutrients may be a mystery, such as antioxidants. What are antioxidants and why are they needed?
What Are Antioxidants?
In simple terms, antioxidants are positive substances that fight free radicals in the body. Antioxidants support normal cell function and work hard to keep cell DNA safe from environmental damage.
Some free radicals are normal, an everyday result of your metabolism. However, other free radicals come from harmful substances, such as pollution, cigarette smoke or chemicals. UV rays from sunlight can also increase the levels of free radicals.
Antioxidants are the body’s answer to oxidative stress. These natural substances can keep free radicals in check, maintaining cell health.
What Are Some Common Antioxidants?
Antioxidants include a huge variety of nutrients from many different foods:
- Vitamins: Beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E
- Minerals: Zinc, manganese and selenium
- Plant substances: Polyphenols in fruit, vegetables, green tea leaves and other plant foods
- Omega-3-6-9 fatty acids: Positive oils from fatty fish and extra-virgin olive oil
The word antioxidant is a general description of what a substance does, not a strict category.
How Do Antioxidants Support the Body?
Different types of antioxidants play specific roles around the body, supporting a variety of body systems. They’re simultaneously “security guards,” “construction workers,” “janitors” and “maintenance personnel.”
Antioxidants do their part to support healthy vision and mitigate the effects of free radicals. The idea is to maintain good eyesight and support the body’s natural systems for taking good care of your retina, lens and other eye tissues. Eye support supplement options often include lutein, zeaxanthin and other carotenoids, antioxidants related to beta-carotene.
Why do the eyes need the support of antioxidants? For one thing, they come into constant contact with light rays, including blue light from bright screens and UV rays from the sun. It’s smart to wear sunglasses that offer UVA/UVB protection when you’re outdoors.
A diet rich in antioxidants can support long-term heart health. Considering how big a role your heart plays in keeping you active, it makes sense to take steps to keep it in good shape. This is the reason you hear so many praises about the Mediterranean diet. Many of the foods in Mediterranean cooking are high in antioxidants, including EVOO, artichokes, salmon and many herbs.
Skin cells also have to deal with a lot of oxidative stress from sunlight, environmental pollution and potential toxins or chemicals. Antioxidants can help to negate some of the potential damage from these sources.
Plus, many antioxidant foods also support skin health in other ways, such as contributing to good hydration or supporting the constant restoration process of skin cells. Did you know that vitamin C is important for healthy skin?
Which Foods Have Lots of Antioxidants?
Eating a varied diet helps you get a range of different antioxidants. The following foods are rich in antioxidants:
- Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries: Berries (fresh or frozen) get their dark red or purple colors from a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins.
- Tomatoes: Cooked tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant. You can also get lycopene from red peppers, watermelon and pink grapefruit.
- Carrots: Carrots are good for eye health thanks to lutein and beta-carotene, both antioxidants. Sweet potatoes and pumpkins also have these nutrients.
- Green veggies: Cruciferous and leafy green vegetables have a variety of antioxidants, plus other vitamins and minerals. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach and kale are some options.
Antioxidants are an important part of the system your body uses to maintain and repair itself. A great way to support your overall health is to eat plenty of natural foods that have lots of antioxidants, such as fruits, leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts and herbs.