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 and what they do?
What are antioxidants?
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 charged, highly reactive molecules that get produced via oxidation—which occurs when your body breaks down food or is exposed to medications or toxins like cigarette smoke, pollution, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
What’s so bad about free radicals?
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 [source].” In other words, it encompasses all the unhealthy conditions we don’t want.
How do I get more antioxidants?
Plants and animals all have some naturally occurring antioxidants and enzymes that minimize or repair the damage to cells from oxidative stress, but the more harmful free radicals the body is exposed to and that build up, the harder it is to keep up.
Plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables and their juices, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices, and even chocolate) are the best natural antioxidant sources [source], although some are also found in small amounts in meat, seafood, and dairy, coming mostly from the plant foods they eat or supplements [source]. As a bonus, most of the antioxidant-rich, plant-based foods are high in fiber, have no saturated fat and cholesterol, and are good sources of vitamins and minerals [source].
Antioxidants are also effective when applied topically, and they are 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 [source]. (You’ll often see vitamins A, C, or E included in face creams and serums and zinc in many sunscreens.)
Foods with High Antioxidant Content
To get rid of as many free radicals as you can, try to get more of these plant-based antioxidant-loaded foods into your diet:
- Fruits – all types
- Vegetables – all types
- Whole grains
10 Types of Antioxidants—and How to Get More of Them!
There are dozens of antioxidants, and they come in many different forms. Some are vitamins and minerals that you might recognize, and others are more obscure compounds. Here are 10 common types, including where in nature they occur and how you can get more of their free-radical-fighting benefits, inside and out.
1. Allium sulfur
Sources: leeks, onions, garlic, shallots
Sources: pumpkin, sweet potatoes, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach, parsley
Sources: red wine, tea, apples, dark chocolate
Sources: tea, dark chocolate, red wine, citrus fruits, onion, apples, pomegranate
Sources: tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya
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, peaches, apricots, mangoes
Sources: cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale
Sources: eggplant, grapes, berries, red cabbage
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Haley, a board-certified dermatologist with extensive experience in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice, and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.82