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Antioxidants: That’s behind the nutrients!

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 228 views

Antioxidants are protective nutrients: they prevent or slow down cell damage caused by so-called free radicals. They protect us from various diseases. Read which foods contain antioxidants and how they work.

What are antioxidants?

To put it simply, antioxidants are protective nutrients – mainly vitamins , but also minerals and trace elements. They neutralize free radicals in the human body, which is why they are also called free radical scavengers. The body produces antioxidants itself, for example in the form of enzymes or certain metabolic products, but we also ingest them through food.

The best-known antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E and the provitamin beta-carotene, a natural dye and a precursor of vitamin A. The following food components are also considered antioxidants:

  • Trace elements (e.g. selenium , zinc , copper)
  • Minerals (e.g. magnesium, potassium)
  • Plant pigments and protective substances such as flavonoids and other secondary plant substances (including lycopene, lutein)
  • Coenzyme Q10 – this is a vitaminoid, i.e. a fat-soluble molecule that is found in fish, meat or eggs and in smaller amounts in vegetable oils or nuts.

How do antioxidants work?

Due to their structure, antioxidants neutralize free radicals and thus prevent them from damaging the body. Free radicals are aggressive chemical compounds. They arise either through natural metabolic processes in the body or as a reaction to environmental influences such as UV radiation, cigarette smoke or air pollution.

A certain amount of free radicals in the body is nothing to worry about. But if there are so many that the body is no longer able to fight them off, oxidative stress occurs . This in turn may cause diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases or hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis).

Antioxidants are also used as food additives There are natural antioxidants like vitamin C , and artificial antioxidants. They are listed as E numbers in the list of ingredients on the product packaging and are used to make food, medicines and cosmetics more durable.

This means that antioxidants have a preservative effect and prevent the food or processed product from reacting with oxygen and thereby changing colour, smell or taste.

Foods with antioxidants

Anyone who pays attention to a healthy diet may have wondered which foods contain the most antioxidants. Antioxidants are mainly found in fruit, vegetables and legumes, and to a lesser extent in animal foods such as fish or eggs. For example, the most powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin, is found in salmon and crustaceans.

As a rule of thumb, the more intensely colored a food is by nature, the more antioxidants it is likely to contain. The following products are at the top because of their high content of radical scavengers.

Apple

There is a lot of vitamin C in here. Especially under the shell. However, apples also contain many trace elements and minerals that help to stop free radicals.

blueberry

There are a lot of secondary plant substances (polyphenols) in here. They give the blueberry its color and flavor. The fruits also contain vitamins A, C and E.

Broccoli

The green Krauts contain various antioxidants with beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium.

Dark chocolate

The high cocoa content makes the difference to milk and white chocolate. The bean contains polyphenols. And they are antioxidants.

Coffee

The brown stimulant contains polyphenols as antioxidants. These are secondary plant substances. They not only give the coffee its aroma, but also protect the body from aggressive radicals.

carrot

The carrot owes its intense orange color to beta-carotene, an antioxidant.

lenses

Here come little polyphenol bombs. They contain more of the secondary plant pigment than, for example, chickpeas, green peas or peanuts.

nuts and seeds

Both the seeds themselves and the oils obtained from them (e.g. sunflower oil) contain a lot of vitamin E.

Spinach

Green leafy vegetables contain lutein. In order to preserve this antioxidant as much as possible, you should eat the spinach raw, also chopped up as a smoothie, and not heat it.

Tee

Like coffee, the antioxidants in tea are polyphenols. More precisely: theaflavins in black tea and catechins in green tea.

Tomato

The redder the tomato, the higher the lycopene content. The plant pigment is considered a strong antioxidant.

Wein

Wine also provides antioxidants. Drinks with alcohol should generally be consumed in moderation, but the grapes from which the grape juice is made contain secondary plant substances (polyphenols) as well as fisetin, a yellow pigment that slowed down cell aging in animal experiments.

Onion

Quercetin, for example, has an antioxidant effect here. This is a flavonoid that, among other things, also inhibits inflammation and strengthens the immune system . By the way: Most of the antioxidants are probably in red onions . Onions in general are better antioxidant suppliers than garlic .

Dietary supplement with antioxidants

Tablets, capsules, powder: There are various dietary supplements that contain antioxidants, such as vitamin preparations with ACE or beta-carotene. These products contain the antioxidants in an isolated form. However, there is currently no scientific evidence that such isolated antioxidants actually protect cells from oxidative stress.

On the contrary: in concentrated form, antioxidants are harmful. For example, the German Cancer Research Center assumes that high doses of antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E impair the effects of radiation and chemotherapy, for example. Smokers have an increased risk of lung cancer if they take beta-carotene vitamins or supplements.

According to a study in which the Cochrane Collaboration evaluated various studies, people who took high doses of vitamins A, E and beta-carotene for several years tended to die a little earlier. While the precise link to antioxidant overdose has not been well established, it makes sense to stick to the daily maximum levels for antioxidants in dietary supplements recommended by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment:

  • Vitamin A (not for pregnant women): 0.2 mg
  • Vitamin C: 250 mg
  • Vitamin E: 30 mg
  • Beta-Carotene: 3.5 mg
  • Selenium: 45 μg
  • Zink: 6,5 mg

Antioxidants in skin care products

UV radiation, air pollution, cigarette smoke, stress – our skin takes on a lot. So it makes sense to support them in the fight against free radicals and also to delay the aging process a little: with cosmetics that contain antioxidants.

Various compounds are used in skin care products that not only trap free radicals, but are also said to stimulate collagen metabolism for smoother, plumper skin – including retinol (vitamin A), vitamin C and coenzyme Q10.

There are studies that suggest the effectiveness of these antioxidants. However , antioxidants in the serum for beautiful skin or in the cream against wrinkles do not replace a healthy lifestyle with exercise and a balanced diet.

Antioxidants: You also need to know that!

It is clear that antioxidants are important for people to remain healthy and for their bodily processes to remain intact. How high the bioavailability of antioxidants from food is, i.e. how well and how much of it the body is able to absorb, has not yet been scientifically clarified conclusively, nor has the exact effects they have.

It is therefore important to pay attention to the following points if you want to supply your body with sufficient antioxidants:

  • Include as many different foods as possible that are considered good sources of antioxidants in your diet to be well supplied.
  • Since the majority of the antioxidants are located directly under or in the skin of most fruits and vegetables, do not peel them.
  • The preparation also has an influence on the antioxidants in food: some, such as peas or zucchini, lose antioxidants when they are cooked. The red plant pigment lycopene, which tomatoes contain, for example, does not mind heating. On the contrary: there are studies that indicate that the body can even absorb it better when it is cooked or in the form of juice with a little corn oil.
  • Antioxidants are also often retained in the juice. In liquid form and mixed with other (healthy) components, they can easily be incorporated into the diet of plant-food haters.

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