What is an Antioxidant?

You’ve read about foods high in antioxidants and you know that’s a good thing, but what is an antioxidant? If you are like most people, you know it somehow protects your cells from something bad, but let’s take a closer look at what an antioxidant really is.


To understand what an antioxidant is you first have to understand what oxidation is. Oxidation kicks off a chain reaction process that can lead to damaged or dead cells, which can mean disease to you and me. Antioxidants can combat this process to protect our cells. So that we can avoid being too scientific, the process goes like this.

Think of Oxidation as a bad guy who releases a few thugs known as Free Radicals to rough up some cells, who will then become Free Radicals themselves. Free Radicals get their strength from Oxidation. Antioxidant is looking out for the cells and either stops Oxidation from releasing more Free Radicals or stops the Free Radicals from creating more Free Radicals, stopping this chain reaction, thus protecting the cells from damage. In this story, Oxidation is bad and the opposite of him is Antioxidant, our hero.

How To Fight Oxidation

So the story goes, increasing our levels of antioxidants is a great way to battle these free radicals and protect our cells from damage. That could mean protection from diseases such as heart disease, certain types of cancer, or even macular degeneration. So we should get as many antioxidants as possible, right?

No so fast.

Many case studies have been done on antioxidant supplements that have been inconclusive. In fact, at some point it would appear that getting too many antioxidants may actually be harmful to your health, putting into question the very idea of adding antioxidant supplements to a person’s diet. However, a diet high in quality fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other things that are also known to be high in antioxidants is routinely found to have numerous health benefits. Because of this, the best bet is to get your antioxidants from foods sources high in antioxidants and avoid the supplements.

Where To Find Antioxidants

The best food sources of antioxidants are those higher in vitamin A, C, or E, beta carotene, or selenium. That would include lots of fruits and vegetables, especially orange and red ones or green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, or legumes.

These antioxidants can prevent the formation of free radicals or stop them in their tracks, and that’s good, since free radicals damage or kill cells. Remember, getting excessive antioxidants with supplements may actually be unhealthy, so avoid supplements. Instead, choose the best source of natural antioxidants like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes.

Now you know how to answer the question “What is an antioxidant?”.

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