"We are what we eat, " and if we take for granted what food packaging is touting these days, our bodies are probably jam-packed with an awful lot of antioxidants. From protein bars and coffee to our favourite chocolate bars, we're constantly bombarded with foods claiming to pack a hefty dose of these healthy compounds.
But, hype aside, what are antioxidants and why do we need them? Are antioxidants worth our attention or it's just another fancy buzzword? Let's see what science has to say.
Before we get acquainted with antioxidants and the role they play in promoting our health, we need to learn a bit about their No 1 enemy: free radicals. Free radicals are molecules which derive either from natural essential metabolic processes of the human body or environmental sources such as exposure to air pollutants, smoking, chemicals and the like.
These molecules are also quite unstable are highly reactive. That means that when an overload of free radicals can't be destroyed naturally by the human body, they accumulate, react with oxygen, damage surrounding cells and result in oxidative stress. In its turn, this process leads to chronic diseases such as neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, cardiovascular issues and much more.
Antioxidants are molecules stable enough to neutralise the harmful effect of rampaging free radicals wandering throughout the human body. As a result, these healthy compounds not only delay but also prevent any potential cellular damage induced by their harmful counterparts. In a nutshell, think of antioxidants as free radical bounty hunters.
Luckily, the human body is designed to get rid of free radicals naturally, producing enough antioxidants through certain defence systems. But, things have changed a bit over the past few decades. These days food is rich in preservatives and all sorts of chemicals, making it hard for the human body to keep up with the ever-increasing amount of free radicals accumulated in it.
That's where naturally antioxidant goodies step in and save the day. In fact, one study suggests that foods packed with vitamins C, E and B-carotene are the perfect candidates to scavenge free radicals altogether.
In a world full of health hazards, antioxidants may be the answer to several common diseases simply by inhibiting the damaging effect of free radicals on human cells. But, which conditions are we talking about?
It's sad, but experts claim that cardiovascular diseases are and will continue to be the leading cause of mortality in the near future. On the bright side, they are 100% preventable and crowding our diet with antioxidants is a great place to start. How come?
Atherosclerosis and several other vascular diseases are linked to oxidative stress. Antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables put the breaks on oxidative damage. In other words, eating antioxidant foods prevents cardiovascular diseases.
Even though obesity and lack of physical activity are the two most important factors hiding behind type 2 diabetes, experts hint that we may need to add oxidative stress to this list. In fact, one recent study clearly suggests that consuming antioxidants through our diet reduces the chance of developing diabetes down the line.
At high concentrations, free radicals may damage major components of your cells the same way cancer does, including proteins, DNA and cell membranes. However, several studies show that a diet rich in antioxidants can prevent the types of cellular damage associated with cancer development.
As we age, free radicals pile up in our body whereas antioxidants mechanisms weaken significantly. Such imbalance leads to progressive cellular damage, affecting skin cells in the process. How can antioxidants reverse this? By removing free radicals from the equation, your skin remains intact and, thus, radiant. Is there anything these tiny detoxifying molecules can't do?
How many times do you catch yourself opening the fridge door only to forget why you did that in the first place? Or grabbing your phone to call someone but you can't remember who? Memory loss is a common symptom of ageing, but nature provides us with a way to stay ahead of the game.
Whether you are in your early 20s or late 60s, scientists claim that antioxidants can significantly reduce serum homocysteine levels in the human body. That's plain English for: "your memory retention can be enhanced naturally just by eating antioxidants."
Now that you know why you need them in your life, how about we check out some of the richest antioxidant sources nature has to offer?
From fueling us with extra energy to reducing inflammation, baobab fruit powder can indeed work miracles on our health. However, one little trait often goes unnoticed. We're talking about baobab powder's antioxidants.
This exotic superfood is cramped with vitamin C which is a top-shelf antioxidant. In fact, so much as 40g of baobab fruit powder cover more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of the vitamin. Imagine what it can do to the free radicals roaming throughout your body.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" and for a good reason. Besides serving as a rich source of fibre and natural sugars, apples (their skin, in particular) are also high in phenolics. Why do you care? Phenolics are one of the three types of antioxidants found only in plant-based foods. So, there you have your daily dose of disease-fighting compounds.
What do pecans, walnuts, and chestnuts have in common? Besides that they all taste awesome, all three of them have the highest contents of antioxidants in the nut universe. So, do your heart a favour and go "nuts" with your diet for an antioxidant boost with a side of healthy omega-3 fats.
Unlike us, the human body needs to work non-stop to remain healthy. That's why it needs a friendly "nudge" now and then to keep going. Antioxidant-rich foods are one of the easiest ways to achieve that. Not only do they give our exhausted defence system a much-needed break, but they can also shield our body against various diseases in the tastiest way possible.