Antioxidants – What exactly is an Antioxidant

Nowadays, the term antioxidant is regularly used in support of the latest face cream or nutritional supplement.

However, people often struggle to understand what an antioxidant actually is.

Below is an explanation of what an antioxidant is and its role in the body.

What is an Antioxidant?

An antioxidant is a substance that neutralises or quenches unstable substances called free radicals (1).

An antioxidant is capable of donating an electron to a free radical and as a result ensures the free radical itself becomes stable (2).

Antioxidants are produced within the body but they are also particularly abundant in fruit and vegetables.

Some of the key antioxidants found in food include vitamin A, C, and E, selenium, copper, zinc and phytochemicals.

As long as there are sufficient antioxidants present then free radicals cause no apparent harm. In fact, free radicals can help protect the body (3).

However, excess free radical production within the body or exposure to free radicals in the environment can overwhelm the body’s antioxidant capacity (3).

Excess free radicals which have not been neutralised may go on to adversely affect lipids, proteins and DNA in an attempt to gain an electron (4, 5).

It is even proposed that free radical damage is the underlying cause of ageing and chronic diseases (4, 6).

Therefore, it makes sense to maximize the amount of antioxidants that are consumed throughout the day.

Each person is different and depending on your lifestyle you may need more or less antioxidants than someone else.

The key is to include a variety of fruit and vegetables in your diet each week.

A simple tip is to include different coloured fruits and vegetables in your shopping basket as you are likely to be getting a greater array of nutrients with antioxidant benefits.

Summary: An antioxidant helps to protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Fruit and vegetables are high in antioxidants and help to maintain or improve health.

Written by Sharon O Brien – Nutrition Tutor at Wellpark College

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