What are Antioxidants?

You know they’re found in foods like fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, meats and fish. You know they’re really good for you. You’ve probably heard a lot about them – but what are antioxidants, actually? The concept can be hard to understand. We break down the complex jargon to enlighten you all about antioxidant benefits, where to find them and how to adapt to an antioxidant diet.

Antioxidants explained

Antioxidants fight against free radicals - free radicals are molecules that can do harmful things to our bodies. This includes damage to our cells and DNA, contribution to the ageing process and playing a role in diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Free radicals are a result of both natural and man-made elements, like ultraviolet rays, tobacco and pollution.

Some of our cells can heal from the damage, but others can’t. Antioxidants are certain chemicals that help stop or limit this free radical damage. They do this by balancing free radicals, preventing them from damaging other cells and reversing the damage that has already been done.

It’s important to mention that free radicals are necessary for our survival as they kill bacteria that tries to infect us. The key is maintaining a balance between the right amount of free radicals and the right amount of antioxidants.

Foods high in antioxidants

Eating foods high in antioxidants is the easiest way for our bodies to gain more of them. It also helps to avoid processed foods, large amounts of UV rays and poisonous substances such as alcohol and tobacco. A high antioxidant diet may help reduce the risk of serious diseases, like heart disease and blood pressure.

Antioxidant foods are fortunately easy to find. They include:

Fruit and vegetables: Fruit and veg such as blueberries, kiwis, broccoli, tomatoes and kale all contain Vitamin C. This antioxidant is important for the growth and repair of tissues in our bodies.

Nuts and seeds: Vitamin E is prevalent in some nuts and seeds such as almonds, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Vitamin E keeps the immune system strong, as well as slowing the ageing process and helping the formation of red blood cells.

Tea: Tea contains two types of antioxidants that help fight inflammation (anthocyanin and proanthocyanin). Green tea also contains catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a particularly strong antioxidant.

Whole grains: Switching to wholegrain bread or pasta is one way to easily improve your health as it introduces zinc and selenium to your diet.

Beans: There are many beans that offer antioxidants. Green soybeans provide vitamin C, zinc and selenium, while lentils and black-eyed peas are high in folate and zinc.

Chaga mushrooms: The Chaga mushroom (Inonotus Obliquus) is rich in antioxidants due to the huge number of polyphenols it contains. Chaga also includes the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD). SODs play an important role in reducing the damage done by free radicals.

The Chaga mushroom also has an extremely high ORAC value. ORAC value is a method designed by scientists to measure the antioxidant capacity in different foods. To give an idea of the antioxidant power Chaga has, ACAI berries have a score of 80,000, whilst Chaga has a huge ARAC value of 3,655,700!

Find out more about Chaga mushrooms and what they do.

Antioxidant benefits

Consuming foods rich in antioxidants has many health benefits. First and foremost, the consumption of antioxidants challenges the free radicals in our bodies, potentially helping to prevent a range of illnesses and diseases.

Antioxidants have also been found to help with eye health, immune system support and memory and heart issues.

Eating a balanced diet that incorporates fruits and vegetables can contribute to a healthier lifestyle overall, with lots of mental and physical benefits. High antioxidant consumption can support weight loss and increase energy levels. Antioxidant supplements are also available; however, it’s important to discuss with your GP before taking them, as they can affect certain medications.

How to adapt to an antioxidant diet

Incorporating antioxidants into your diet is easy. There are simple switches, like swapping white pasta, bread and rice for wholegrain or having nuts or a piece of fruit as a snack rather than chocolate or crisps.

Vegetables such as spinach and kale, as well as beans and seeds, are extras that can easily be added to most lunches and dinners. Making a curry or stew is an easy way to incorporate these antioxidants into your diet – and have a delicious meal.

There’s also the option of introducing antioxidant drinks into your diet. The Chaga mushroom has been consumed for decades in Russia and is packed with nutrients and antioxidants. It has been said to have many benefits, like improving immune systems, and helping with ageing. Drinking one or two bottles of Chaga Life tea a day is a fantastic way to add much needed antioxidants into your diet.