Mr and Mrs Nutritionist

What Are The Benefits of Antioxidants?

Introduction To Antioxidants and Free Radicals

Antioxidants, a term that marketers and advertisers have bombarded the the public with, is probably not a foreign term to many.  However, despite the best marketing tools many people still are not sure what an antioxidant actually is, where to find it, or why we should be consuming them, and what are the benefits of antioxidants.  Well, before we talk about antioxidants, we need to talk about the reason for the existence of antioxidants and its arch nemesis- free radicals.

What Are Free Radicals?

Free Radicals Damage DNA

Free radicals are molecules and atoms in the body that are unstable and have the potential to cause damage in the body.  When molecules are unstable they are able to cause damage by stealing pieces from DNA, proteins, and cell membranes in order to stabilize themselves.  When healthy DNA, proteins, and cell membranes becomes destabilized and loose vital pieces of their structure they lose their ability to function normally, and when a cell is damaged extensively the cell eventually dies.  Therefor unwanted and excess free radicals in the body can cause long term damage to your health and can be the cause of a myriad of diseases such as  as cancer, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.

Causes Of Free Radicals

PollutionThere are many different causes of free radicals, and free radicals can be produced in different ways.  Our bodies naturally make free radicals during the electron transport chain, which is a microscopic system within your cells that essentially creates energy for the body.

However, there are many other different causes of free radicals that are not natural.  Things such as UV light from the sun, air pollution, radiation, pesticides and chronic inflammation can all cause increased production of free radicals and therefor increased cellular damage.  Other self induced factors of free radicals include smoking, certain drugs, and excessive exercise.

Antioxidants

So again, what is an antioxidant?  Well, simply put, an antioxidant neutralizes free radicals by donating a piece of themselves to the free radical and therefor negating the harmful effects that the free radical is capable of doing to the body.  Essentially antioxidants sacrifice themselves for the greater good, the unsung heroes if you will.  There are possibly thousands of antioxidants but we can put them into two categories:

  1. Antioxidants that our bodies make naturally including superoxide disputes, catalase, and glutathione systems.
  2. Antioxidants that we consume in the form of food or supplements.  Food and supplement forms of antioxidants is especially important if you are exposed to the various causes of environmental or behavioral sources of free radicals as mentioned earlier.  There are actually hundreds if not thousands of antioxidants but some of the more well known ones include: vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, phytoestrogens, selenium, magnesium.

Antioxidants in Foods

Foods can be measured for their ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), and a high ORAC amount is desired and is indicative of a high antioxidant quantity.  At one point the USDA recommended 3,000-5,000 ORAC units per day.  However, unlike other nutrients there has never been a hard and fast rule as to how much we need in order to prevent diseases or how much is needed for optimal health.  What is interesting though is that in 2012 the USDA stopped using ORAC – a controversial move that has left more than one researcher disagreeing.  One of the main reasons why the USDA stopped using the ORAC is because manufacturers and marketing campaigns were using them incorrectly and misleading the public in order to promote their specific products.  Although the USDA has stopped using the ORAC, it is still a very handy tool to quantify which foods contain a high ORAC amount.  Below is a list of the top 20 foods with a high ORAC value:

Foods With High ORAC

In summary, we at Mr and Mrs Nutritionist recommend eating a very wide variety of foods, including foods with a high ORAC score.  Also if you are exposed to many sources of free radicals you should definitely increase your consumption of foods high on the ORAC score.  It should also be noted that not all antioxidants are the same, and different foods contain different types of antioxidants, so try and get a large variety of high ORAC foods into your diet in order to neutralize excess free radicals.

 

Resources:

Agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov, (1999). USDA ARS Online Magazine Vol. 47, No. 2. [online] Available at: http://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/1999/feb/aging [Accessed 13 Feb. 2016].

Haytowitz, D. and Bhagwat, S. (2010). USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: http://www.orac-info-portal.de/download/ORAC_R2.pdf [Accessed 13 Feb. 2016].

Liou, S. (2011). About Free Radical Damage | HOPES. [online] Stanford.edu. Available at: http://web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/hopes_test/about-free-radical-damage/ [Accessed 13 Feb. 2016].

Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A. and Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(8), p.118.

Pham-Huy, L., He, H. and Pham-Huy, C. (2016). Free Radicals, Antioxidants in Disease and Health. international Journal of Biomedical Science, 4(2), pp.89-96.

Usda.gov, (2016). Nutrient Data : Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 (2010). [online] Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=15866 [Accessed 13 Feb. 2016].

4 Comments

  1. Kim

    What is your opinion regarding antioxidant supplementation?

    Reply
    1. Maggie (Post author)

      We at Mr and Mrs Nutritionist believe that if you have a varied diet and include foods that have a high ORAC value supplementation is not needed. However, if you do not have a great diet, are a picky eater, have many food allergies/ sensitivities, or if you are exposed to MANY different types of free radical sources supplementation may be needed. We will be doing a future post on reviews of different antioxidant supplements that we recommend – so keep following us!

      Thank you for your comment Kim,

      Maggie

      Reply
  2. lucy

    Where will we find the plastic recycle range on Uk packaging?

    Reply
    1. Maggie (Post author)

      That is a very good question. Recycling codes for plastics are actually international, and are regulated by ASTM International and they have issued a standard practice for coding plastic manufactured articles for resin identification. Please be on the lookout for a future and more in depth post specifically on the different recycling codes- so keep following us! You will typically find the recycling code in a small triangle on the bottom of bottles or containers.

      Thank you for your comment Lucy,

      Maggie

      Reply

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