Antioxidants explained

Antioxidants explained

Antioxidants are commonly billed as front-line defenders of cellular well-being. Knowing what they are, how they act and ensuring you have a balanced intake is key to maintaining good health.

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Neutralising power
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals and other chemicals that help protect your cells. They limit the negative impact that free radicals – atoms generated naturally and by exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, gamma rays from radioactive material and other external toxins such as tobacco smoke and industrial fumes – have on your body. While a certain amount of free radicals are essential for metabolic functions like digestion, too many can have a damaging effect by stealing electrons from cells. Antioxidants intercept this process by scavenging electrons from free radicals, disabling their ability to cause you excessive harm.

Guardians of health
Without the presence of antioxidants in your system, free radicals can contaminate DNA, corrupt immune function and trigger premature aging of the skin. Although short of conclusive scientific evidence, the general consensus is that antioxidants can restrict free radicals from being a contributing cause of such chronic conditions such as cancer, coronary heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Simple balanced intake
Antioxidants vary in their form and beneficial properties. They are present in a wide range of produce and groceries, particularly in selenium-rich foods like fish, shellfish and eggs, and bites with a high vitamin A, C and E content. Nutritionists advise that eating unprocessed meals that are varied and rich in colour will generally provide you with the diverse and adequate intake of antioxidants essential for optimal health. In real terms, this means feasting on a broad selection of fruit and vegetables (eat the rainbow!), and not letting beans, nuts, seeds and grains being strangers at your dining table.

Antioxidant-rich bites
If you feel that you have hit an antioxidant low, here are some simple ways to top up:

• Go nuts
While you should be conscious of their high fat content, nuts pack a powerful antioxidant punch. Walnuts contain the most, followed by pecans and chestnuts. If you prefer almonds, hazelnuts or Brazil nuts, eat them with their thin brown skin intact – you’ll get more antioxidants to the mouthful.

Berry boost
Sweet to the taste and a delicious snack, pretty much all berries are brilliant sources of antioxidants. However, blueberries lead the pack. They are brimming with nutrients, including phenolic compounds with an antioxidant capacity significantly higher than vitamins C or E.

Spice it up
Unbeknown to many, spices such as cloves, turmeric and cinnamon contain up to 50 times more antioxidant potency by weight than blueberries. While you can practically and safely consume more blueberries than spices, adding a sprinkling of ground cinnamon to your coffee, a pinch of crushed cloves to your baking or a dash of turmeric to your rice is a tasty way to up your antioxidant intake.

Vegetable variety
Artichokes, curly kale, red and green peppers, red cabbage and beetroot rank as the highest scoring vegetables on the antioxidant scale. However, variety is king, so get adventurous on your vegetable combos. Steaming rather than boiling them will preserve their antioxidant content during cooking too.


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