An antioxidant definition must, by necessity, include a discussion of oxidants. An antioxidant is a molecule that acts "anti", or counter to, an oxidant. So, what then is an oxidant?
Oxidants and Antioxidants - Definitions and Examples
Most of the essential processes that keep the body functioning require oxygen, hence the need to breath in oxygen in order to live. However, when the body burns oxygen to produce energy as part of its normal functioning, this process also produces side products called oxidants. Also called "free radicals," oxidants are harmful to the body, causing cell damage that may result in a whole range of medical conditions.
The action of oxidants, or free radicals, on the body can be compared to the action of rust on a metal article that is left out in the rain. Much like free radicals, rust is caused by a process of oxidation. Just as rust attacks and breaks down the metal, free radicals break down body cells and tissue, attack DNA, fats and proteins. It is this process that speeds up the aging process, and free radicals have been definitively linked with age-related conditions such as cancer, cataracts, heart disease and other age-related conditions.
We cannot avoid free radicals because they are a natural product of the process of living. What's more, aside from natural metabolism, free radicals are also introduced into the body in a variety of other ways, such as pollution, sun exposure and other environmental factors. Other harmful substances that introduce these harmful compounds include alcohol, nicotine, x-rays and certain foods. We can, however, combat the harmful effects of oxidants with antioxidants.
An Antioxidant Definition
Here is a basic antioxidant definition. An antioxidant may also be called an anti-oxidation agent. These molecules help combat the harmful effects of free radicals by binding together with oxidant compounds in the body, and neutralizing their destructive properties. Antioxidants also help to repair cell damage caused by oxidants.
The body naturally produces antioxidant substances itself. These are called antioxidant enzymes. They include Catalase, Superoxide Dismutase, and Glutathione. These antioxidant compounds break down oxidants in the body into harmless substances like water or oxygen particles, which then leave the body without harming it.
Antioxidants in Your Diet
A large proportion of the antioxidants that the body needs, however, must come from the food that we eat. Certain types of food are rich sources of antioxidants, and are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale are especially rich in antioxidants. Foods that are high in vitamin C, and vitamin E, as well as vitamin A and beta-carotene, are also beneficial sources of antioxidants.
As a general rule, brightly colored fruit and vegetables are high in these essential nutrients including peppers, carrots, tomatoes and strawberries. Other foods that are rich sources of antioxidants include cranberries, red wine, grapefruit, pomegranates, kiwi, tea, soy, Brussels sprouts and pulses such as rye and barley. These foods should be regularly eaten as part of a healthy diet
Nutritionists and dietary experts believe raw fruit and vegetables provide much higher levels of vitamins and anti-oxidants than cooked food. It is theorized that cooking tends to breakdown a certain proportion of their beneficial nutrients. However, cooked vegetables still contain some antioxidants and therefore remain a healthy dietary option.
Another source of antioxidants is dietary supplements. As their name suggests, supplements can boost or make up for any deficiencies in your dietary intake of antioxidants. A broad range of brands is available on the market. You can even select specific types of antioxidants for specific medical conditions.
Antioxidants are nutrients that are indispensable for the proper functioning of our bodies, and for protecting against the diseases that result from the ravages of free radicals. A healthy, balanced diet will typically provide the required amounts of antioxidants. Dietary supplements are an effective way to make up for any shortfalls in your intake levels.