Nutrition Basics

What is an Antioxidant, Exactly?

By April 22, 2018April 26th, 2018No Comments

I for one have used ‘antioxidants are good for me’ as an excuse to inhale an acai bowl and I know I’m not the only one. We can infer that antioxidants are a good thing, thanks to excessive marketing on shiny purple posters at nearly every juice bar, coffee shop and cafe.  But do you know exactly what an antioxidant is? I didn’t either!

Let’s start at the beginning. If an antioxidant is good, then an oxidant must be bad, right? Sort of. Oxidants are just another name for free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals that occur naturally and can be caused by a myriad of things: environmental pollution, stress, smoking and drug use, refined and processed foods, pesticides, and more. Free radicals have the ability to damage our cells.  If you want to get nitty gritty, a free radical is an atom that becomes oxidized. Through the oxidation process, an atom loses an electron and becomes unstable and goes haywire in your body. (Check out the first link below for more. We’re really throwing it back to 9th grade biology class here.) These guys are like party guests you didn’t invite. They start knocking over lamps and spilling on your furniture. Free radicals really screw with your system and can contribute to a lot of chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Chron’s disease, kidney disease, etc.

So, free radicals are jerks. Not…entirely. They can actually help our immune system, keep us from getting sick, and help our liver’s natural detoxification system. You know when you’re really hungover and feel like shit? Those free radicals are at work, doing their best to clean out your system. Confusing isn’t it? For the most part, let’s agree that too many free radicals is a bad thing. This is where antioxidants come into play.

When free radicals get wild and throw their own private party in your bod, antioxidants are super awesome molecules that bust into the party and go ‘hey bod, we’re going to take one for team and give up an electron to get these guys out of here’. Just think of them as party cops. Our bodies produce antioxidants naturally, but only in small amounts. That’s why it’s important to eat antioxidant-rich foods so we can continuously kick out those party crashers. You know what else is cool? Antioxidants can actually repair cells that have been damaged. They’ll stay and help clean up the party.

Antioxidants can actually repair cells that have been damaged. They’ll stay and help clean up the party.

So aside from acai bowls (which are healthy and unhealthy…more on that in another post?), what other foods can we turn to for antioxidants? Eat plants, and colorful ones at that.  Plants are so freaking amazing because they contain phytochemicals. Plants, fruits and vegetables produce their own chemicals to protect themselves while they, you know, do their thing and grow. Chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants green, is a really powerful antioxidant. Really any brightly colored food – we’re talking real foods from the ground or a tree, not bright orange cheetos – will contain those phytochemicals. Apples, bell peppers, plums, berries, asparagus, cherries, broccoli, kale, kiwi, pineapple, carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, pumpkin – should I go on? You guys get it. And now you know!

P.S. – the featured photo here is from one of my fav coffee shops in OB, The Nest. It’s the 6th & Laurel smoothie and I get it every time I go. So dang delicious!

Alexa Brynne

Author Alexa Brynne

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