Antioxidants: What They Are And Why We Need Them!

What are antioxidants and why do we need them?


You’ve heard it before; “Make sure you’re getting those antioxidants!” But what exactly is an antioxidant, and why are they so important?

As a Cell & Molecular Biology major, I have to admit that I geek out a little when it comes to learning about the human body on a cellular level. I find it so fascinating, and I have decided to start sharing more posts and info about what I’ve learned through my studies. I hope you guys enjoy the topics, and if there are specific things that you’d like to learn more about feel free to reach out and let me know!

For today’s post, I’m discussing antioxidants and explaining why we need these little free radical scavengers in our bodies! πŸ™‚

(I am not a doctor and the following is not meant as medical advice. Please consult your Doctor to discuss your health needs.) 

First up: What is an Antioxidant?

Chemically speaking, antioxidants are molecules that essentially inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, which can lead to chain reactions in the body that may damage cells. Antioxidants are believed to terminate/prevent these chain reactions from taking place. Antioxidants are used for industrial purposes, such as in food production in order to prevent oxidation and spoilage, but they are also found naturally in foods as well. Below I list some foods that are high in antioxidants.

speaking of free radicals..

You’ve probably heard this term before and you may or may not know what it means, so let’s use an example. Our body has thousands, if not millions, of chemical reactions occurring at any given time, and every once in a while (based on things we eat, our environment, stress levels, etc.) these reactions do not go as planned and the players don’t end up where they’re supposed to be.

We can think of it like this: Say A + B = C and D is the reaction that is meant to occur, but something goes wrong and instead we end up with A + B = C. Wait, what happened to D? Now we have created C, but it is without its partner D, leaving C very unhappy and very “reactive”. C is our example of a free radical: Basically a reactant in need of a partner. Because C is all alone, it now goes off in search of someone to replace its beloved D, and this is where problems can occur. C can then react with many molecules in our body that should not be disrupted, for example DNA and many proteins that are needed for structure and metabolism. Sounds scary, right? Fortunately, our body does have specific repair mechanisms that work to fix free radical damage, but there are limitations.

Now enter antioxidants – In layman’s terms, the widely believed theory with antioxidants is that they can happily pair up with the unhappy C and take the place of D, preventing C from causing unwanted chain reactions and allowing everyone to be happy and content. πŸ™‚ 

So while our bodies are typically able to handle most of the daily stressors that can lead to damage, antioxidants are a way for us to get some added protection against oxidation and free radical damage. 

Where to Get Antioxidants

Antioxidants are in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Based on studies conducted by the USDA, cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries contained the most antioxidants among the fruits studied., Beans, artichokes, and Russet potatoes contained the most among the vegetables studied, and Pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts contained the most among the nuts studied.

Here is a list of 15 foods that contain the largest amount of antioxidants: 
  • Red, kidney, and pinto beans
  • Blueberries 
  • Cranberries
  • Artichoke
  • Blackberries
  • Prunes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Red Delicious & Granny Smith apples
  • Pecans
  • Sweet Cherries
  • Black Plums

I hope this post helps you understand a little more about antioxidants; if you have specific questions feel free to reach out!

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