What Are Antioxidants?

With the recent fad-diets revolving around products like the Acai Berry, I figured it would be a good idea to do a little overview on antioxidants. I tend to bash these cleanse diets because getting a proper balance of antioxidants in your diet is a very comprehensive process that cannot be accomplished with a single product… period. But don’t worry, it’s not hard to get the right amount of antioxidants!
So back to the topic. What are they? How do they affect your health? Why do you need them? Just how much is enough? These are some of the questions that are most often asked when it comes to antioxidants, so let’s answer them!

What are antioxidants?

The best way to understand a term is to define it. So let’s take a look at the definition of an antioxidant (Wiki):

An antioxidant is a molecule capable of slowing or preventing the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals, which start chain reactions that damage cells. Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates and inhibit other oxidation reactions by being oxidized themselves. As a result, antioxidants are often reducing agents such as thiols or polyphenols.

Ok, since there’s a lot of information there, we’ll just start with antioxidants themselves. Like the above definition says, they are molecules that are essential for good health because they prevent a damaging process known of oxidation. Oxidation can lead to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other degenerative diseases. There are two kinds of antioxidants (Mark’s Daily Apple):
Antioxidants can be broken into two general categories: antioxidant nutrients (including phytonutrients) and antioxidant enzymes.”

So, quick and dirty… nutrients, in this sense, are “…a substance used in an organism’s metabolism which must be taken in from its environment…” while enzymes are “…biomolecules that catalyze (i.e., increase the rates of) chemical reactions” according to Wiki (1, 2). So you’ve got the kind of antioxidants you eat and the kind you’ve got in your body.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at foods that contain antioxidants and how to properly categorize them!



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