Although antioxidants don’t fall into the macronutrient or micronutrient groups, they are still important for us to stay healthy! Before I dive headfirst into the importance of antioxidants in our diet and where to find them, I wanted to answer some important questions you might have about antioxidants, including what they are and why they exist.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances that protect our bodies and cells from damage that is caused by free radicals. Some antioxidants are naturally occurring while other antioxidants are man-made. Currently, Health Canada does not have a recommended daily intake for antioxidants or a safety level. However, studies have shown that man-made antioxidants are just as safe and effective as natural antioxidants.
There are many different molecules that can be antioxidants. Some, but not all, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are antioxidants including, beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. To learn more about these vitamins and minerals, check out my Micronutrient Monday series.
What are Free Radicals and Where Do They Come From?
Free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), are unstable molecules that may damage our DNA. Free radicals are associated with various diseases including, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
There are many different sources of free radicals. Free radicals are naturally produced by our bodies during metabolism and exercise, but can also come from by exposure to some substances in foods, drinks and other areas of our environment. Some substances that can create free radicals include,
- Fried foods
- UV radiation
- Air pollutions
When we are exposed to lots of free radicals, our bodies experience oxidative stress, which is the imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals. This means there are not enough antioxidants to defend our cells against all the free radicals leading to DNA damage.
Antioxidants in Our Diet
When we are exposed to lots of free radicals, our bodies experience oxidative stress, which is the imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals. This means there are not enough antioxidants to defend our cells against all the free radicals leading to DNA damage. It’s important for us to consume enough antioxidants stop free radical damage.
Some of the common antioxidants that are found in our diet include,
- Vitamin A, C and E
For a more comprehensive list, check out Victoria’s Department of Health website on antioxidants.
Some popular antioxidant-rich foods include,
- Sweet potato
Rather than memorizing a list of foods containing antioxidants, you can remember that they are found in colourful fruits and veggies.
Antioxidants are available as supplements, but if possible, it is better to get your antioxidants from food. Here’s why. Most supplements contain only one or even a few nutrients whereas foods contain many nutrients. By increasing antioxidant-rich foods in your diet, you are also increasing your intake of other nutrients which support your body.
2 Ways to Include More Antixodants in Your Diet
We can reduce our risk of developing diseases and manage some conditions by consuming an antioxidant-rich diet. Two simple ways you can include more antioxidants in your diet include,
- Prioritizing fruits and vegetables
- Fruits and veggies are a great sources of antioxidants. Including more fruits and vegetables in our diet can boost our intake of antioxidants while also providing our bodies with many other important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Including food rich in vitamins and minerals
- Some foods naturally contain lots of vitamins and minerals while other foods have vitamins and minerals added to boost their nutritional value and help us consume the nutrients we need. Many micronutrients are antioxidants and including enriched and fortified foods in your diet can help you increase your antioxidant intake. You can learn more about added nutrients in my enrichment and fortification post.
- Prioritizing fruits and vegetables
Antioxidant-Rich Recipes to Try
If you’re trying to include more antioxidants in your diet, check out some of the recipes below!
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