What They Do And Foods Rich In Antioxidants – Cleveland Clinic

Antioxidants are one of those things you hear about a lot. Whether it’s from a healthcare provider or from advertisements, you can’t get around all the chatter about antioxidants and how important they are.

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But what are antioxidants? And why are they so important? To get to the bottom of all the hype, we spoke with registered dietitian Nicole Hopsker, RD.

What are antioxidants?

“Antioxidants are chemicals that occur naturally in foods and can act as a defense against free radicals,” Hopsecger explains. “Free radicals are natural byproducts of metabolism that occur in our bodies or can be the result of environmental factors, such as air pollution and smoke.”

The primary benefit of antioxidants is their ability to safely interact with free radicals before damage can occur at the cellular level. Basically, says Hopsecger, “antioxidants fight free radicals.”

“Free radicals can damage the cells of the body by altering the DNA of the cell, or they can alter the cell membrane,” Hopsker explains. “This interaction between free radicals and the body is called oxidative stress, which is often thought to contribute to an increased risk of chronic disease.”

Hopsecger says that while fighting free radicals is the primary benefit of antioxidants, there is a secondary benefit.

“Indirectly, antioxidants help reduce the risk of chronic disease because they prevent those free radicals from causing damage to our cells,” Hopsecger says.

Antioxidants and your diet

While our bodies naturally produce some antioxidants, certain foods are the best way to ensure that you get enough antioxidants.

Foods rich in antioxidants

Some examples of antioxidants and foods (and sources of vitamins) you can find in them, according to Hopsecger, include:

  • Vitamin C: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and citrus fruits.
  • Vitamin E: Almonds, avocados, sunflower seeds, oatmeal, and legumes (beans, lentils, peas).
  • Beta-carotene: Apricot, cantaloupe, mango, carrot, grapefruit and sweet pepper.
  • Selenium: Eggs, tuna, salmon, brown rice, onions, and many other vegetables.

Like many health care providers, Hopsecger recommends following the “rainbow diet” to ensure you get all the necessary nutrients your body needs.

The rainbow diet means eating fruits and vegetables of different colors such as green (broccoli or spinach), red (tomato or strawberry), orange (carrot or orange), and yellow (pepper or banana). This ensures that you are consuming a variety of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants.

What do you know about antioxidants?

While antioxidants are very beneficial for your health, there are misconceptions about them and confusion about how best to make them a part of your diet.

No single antioxidant can do everything

“We can’t rely on any of the antioxidants or nutrients to do all the work,” Hopsecger says. “We need to get a variety of these to make sure we’re staying healthy and the best way to do that is through a healthy, balanced and varied diet.”

Every antioxidant behaves differently in our bodies, Hopsecger says, and no single antioxidant can do all the work of many different antioxidants. On a similar note, she adds that the idea of ​​a “superfood” that can provide a higher level of nutrients than others is somewhat of a misnomer.

“Superfoods tend to be associated more with a marketing trend,” she says, noting that both kale and avocado have seen a boom in popularity in recent years. And while these foods are healthy, it’s important to make sure you’re getting a variety of foods in your diet — like the rainbow diet — rather than focusing on any particular food too much.

Don’t rely on supplements

While getting antioxidants into your body is a good thing, doing so through supplements may not be, says Hopsecger. “Studies are inconclusive about whether or not supplementation actually helps, or in some cases, causes more harm than good,” she says.

“Not only can these medications interact with medications you’re already taking, but you don’t get a comprehensive variety, especially if you’re taking large doses of one drug,” she adds. “And these individual antioxidants may not function as well without the presence of other nutrients that you get more naturally through a balanced diet.”

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