By: Anna Bui, Healthy Aggies intern
Nowadays many commercial packaged foods and drinks are advertised as a “good source of antioxidants.” We see the word all the time but most of us aren’t able to explain why antioxidants are good or even which foods contain them. “Antioxidant” has become synonymous with “good health.” But, what are they and how are they beneficial?
Antioxidants are compounds produced by the body and often found in fruits and veggies that can inhibit oxidation or “fight against” free radicals. To understand what an antioxidant is we need to understand the oxidation process and how free radicals are produced.
In the chemical structure of all things, atoms are surrounded by electrons (negatively charged particles) that orbit around in a layer called a shell. Each shell needs to be filled by a set of electrons through various types of bonds with other molecules. Free radicals are unstable molecules that do not have a full outer shell. The primary source of free radicals are the normal metabolic processes that occur in the body. We are also exposed from X-rays, sunlight, air pollutants, or smoking. Free radicals are everywhere! They become reactive and can be very damaging to our bodies if we are unable to eradicate them. They can react with our DNA, can cause cell mutations, oxidative stress, aging, and promote cancer.
Since we cannot remove free radicals from our lives, we’re lucky that, as human beings, we have adapted a mechanism to counteract their effects – through antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent oxidation by donating an electron to these free radicals to make them less reactive. Not only can antioxidants donate an electron, they don’t then become a free radical themselves! It’s amazing!! Our bodies make some types of antioxidants but we can boost the supply through consuming certain foods.
Good sources of antioxidants in food include almost all fruits and veggies, dark chocolate, green and black teas, and legumes. As of now, more research needs to be conducted on how many antioxidants we need to consume for optimal health.