Q: What’s an “antioxidant”?
A: Antioxidants are compounds that offset damage to the body’s cells. Antioxidants, including certain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, defend against injuries caused by free radicals. But what’s a free radical? Simply, free radicals are oxygen molecules floating around in your system that contain an unpaired electric charge. This single “electron” looks for a buddy to gain stability and so it destructively steals a second electron from substances like cell membranes and DNA. Free radicals form naturally during the metabolism of food, but are also caused by cigarette smoke, air pollution and UV sun rays. While there are some benefits to free radicals, these highly reactive, unstable molecules are implicated in aging, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. Fortunately, antioxidants can destroy free radicals, limit their formation and stimulate repair activity at the site of damage.
|Antioxidant||Food sources||Recommended Daily Amount|
|Vitamin C||Orange, grapefruit, mango, strawberries, broccoli||90 mg for men75 mg for women|
|Vitamin E||Wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, peanut butter||15 mg|
|Beta-carotene (Vitamin A precursor)||Carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli||None established|
|Selenium||Brazil nuts, tuna, turkey, rice||55 µg|
|Lycopene||Tomatoes, ketchup, watermelon||None established|
|Lutein||Dark, leafy greens (e.g. spinach)||None established|
|Resveratrol||Red grapes||None established|
|Anthocyanin||Blueberries, raspberries, plums, red grapes||None established|
There is no set daily recommendation for most antioxidants; however, eating more fruits and vegetables is the best way to boost your intake. Rely on whole foods, not supplements, since popping high dose capsules can have negative health effects. For example, beta-carotene supplements are associated with higher rates of lung cancer in men; however, smokers are recommended to increase vitamin C intake, due to smoke-induced oxidative damage. My take? Get your antioxidants from food sources, steer clear of mega-dose pills and stick to recommended daily amounts of vitamins & minerals.