It seems like antioxidants are everywhere, from juices to skin creams to sunscreen. We know they’re good for us, but have you ever wondered why that is?
Long story short, antioxidants are natural, plant-derived compounds that protect our cells from, and minimize the damage caused by, free radicals. Free radicals are uncharged, highly reactive molecules that get produced via oxidation—which occurs when your body breaks down food, or is exposed to medications or external toxins like cigarette smoke, pollution and radiation; they can also be produced via sun exposure.
While free radicals aren’t all detrimental (in fact, oxidation is necessary for life), the accumulation of free radicals—if we don’t have enough antioxidants to deal with them—brings on oxidative stress. As the National Center for Biotechnology Information (the division of the National Institute of Health that specializes in molecular biology) puts it, oxidative stress “plays a major part in the development of chronic and degenerative illness such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, aging, cataract, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.” A.k.a., all the things we don’t want.
Plants and animals all have some naturally occurring antioxidants and enzymes that minimize or repair the damage to our cells from oxidative stress, but the more we’re exposed to harmful free radicals and the more they build up, the harder it is for the body to keep up.
Plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables and their juices, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and even chocolate) are the best sources, although they are also found in meat, seafood and dairy. As a bonus, many antioxidant-rich foods are high in fiber, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and good sources of vitamins and minerals.
Antioxidants are also effective when applied topically and they just as important for skin, eyes and hair as they are for our other organs and systems, which is why you also see them in beauty products and sunscreens. (You’ll often see vitamins A, C or E included in face creams and serums; zinc is an antioxidant in many sunscreens.)
Foods with High Antioxidant Content
Try to get more of these plant-based antioxidant-loaded foods in your diet:
- Kidney beans
- Pinto beans
10 Types and Sources of Antioxidants—and How to Get More of Them!
There are dozens of antioxidants, and they come in many different forms and names. Some are vitamins and minerals that you might recognize, some are more obscure compounds. Here are 10 common ones, including where in nature they occur and how you can get more of their free-radical-fighting benefits, inside and out.
1. Allium sulphur
Sources: leeks, onions, garlic
2. Beta carotene
Sources: pumpkin, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach, parsley
Sources: red wine, tea
Sources: tea, dark chocolate, red wine, citrus fruits, onion, apples, pomegranate
Sources: tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon
6. Vitamin C
Sources: oranges, berries, kiwi, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, peppers
7. Vitamin E
Sources: vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, seeds, whole grains
Sources: red peppers, pumpkin, mangoes
Sources: cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale
Sources: eggplant, grapes, berries