Today, who has not heard of foods with antioxidants? Or free radicals? In molecular terms, they are substances that produce a series of reactions within our organism, producing various effects, one of the most important of which is to influence our physical appearance, specifically our skin.
Caring for the diet and maintaining an adequate supply of food that is rich in antioxidants is a way of reducing the symptoms of ageing
In case there are still doubts, we will quickly explain a series of important concepts to understand why it is necessary that in our day-to-day life there is nutritional support from sources with a high concentration of these antioxidants.
What are free Radicals?
To understand these substances, we have to go back to our time at school, to chemistry class… and specifically what the cells that make up our body are made of.
There are different types of cells, made up of different types of molecules, which are made up of one or more atoms, linked together by chemical bonds. Within the atomic structure there are: the nucleus, protons (positive charge) and electrons (negative charge) among others. The latter two establish the electrical balance of the atom (same amount of protons and electrons). The electrons are in charge of interacting or remaining united by means of bonds with other atoms.
Electrons are found surrounding the nucleus, in different orbits or energy levels. Each of these orbits is filled by a number of electrons (the first energy level is occupied by two electrons) successively. The last orbit determines the electrical behaviour of the atom. If it is full of electrons, the substance or atom is said not to show any electrical behaviour or “react”. However, the atom seeks to obtain stability and will try to complete the quota of electrons that fit in the last orbit. This process is carried out by “gaining” or “losing” electrons, or by sharing with other atoms (in this case they will be “joined” and will allow the maximum stability of the molecule).
If the bonds are weak and end up breaking, they cause the molecule to be left with an electron without matching, and that molecule becomes a new substance, called free radicals.
Free radicals are very unstable, trying to get the missing electron from other components to gain stability. In this way, they “attack” the nearest molecules, “stealing” their electron. Thus, this molecule that has just been attacked, loses atomic stability, becomes a new free radical. This process gives rise to a whole chain reaction, which tends to alter the functioning of the cell, and even produce “cell death”.
Types of Free Radicals and the Factors that Generate Them
- Endogenous oxidants, are the result of physiological and biochemical processes that take place inside the body, such as digestion, breathing… The immune system is also responsible for producing cells of this type, to eliminate infectious agents.
- Exogenous free radicals are due to external factors, such as: pollution, radiation, tobacco smoke, toxins (alcohol), etc.
- Environmental exposure,
- Toxins and bacteria,
- Cigarette smoke, alcohol, drugs and/or medicines,
- Herbicides and pesticides,
- Breathing and digestive system process,
- Too much exercise, or high intensity,
However, the body is prepared to counteract the action of free radicals. Although it is true that, faced with a high production of these harmful substances and their accumulation, the body may not be able to cope, especially in cases of older age or nutritionally deficient nutrition.
Maintaining a correct intake of food with antioxidants may be linked to longevity, enjoy a good level of health and reflect a rejuvenated appearance
Effects of Oxidation
The damage produced by free radicals is called oxidation, and it affects the tissues that make up the organism: cellular proteins, DNA, membranes… In the skin, the most notable symptoms are the appearance of wrinkles and spots.
- Cognitive decline
- Health problems
What are Antioxidants?
Basically, antioxidants neutralise the damaging effect of free radicals
The antioxidant “donates” an electron to the free radical molecule to produce atomic balance
To achieve this, antioxidants donate one of their electrons to the molecule categorised as a radical, and that molecule is brought back into balance. However, antioxidants do not also become free radicals, despite losing the electron, as they have the ability to remain stable in any form.
Benefits of Antioxidants
- Reduce inflammation
- Strengthen the immune system
- Combat signs of ageing (anti-ageing effect)
- Rejuvenates the appearance of the skin
- Reducing the risk of cancer
- Cardiovascular protection
- Prevent cognitive problems/li>
- Eye system and eye tissue support
Types of Antioxidants
In a natural way we can find 3 main antioxidants:
As the body is not capable of synthesising vitamins it is essential that they are included through the corresponding foods with antioxidants in the diet. Among these elements are the most common ones and their main functions:
- Vitamin A: immune system support, eye health, tissue regeneration, cholesterol regulation. Read more about Vitamin A
- Vitamin C: protection of the skin against UV rays, promotion of iron absorption, defence against infection, regulation of blood triglycerides
- Vitamin E: health of blood vessels, maintenance of skin appearance, protection of cell membrane
- Coenzyme Q10: is a pseudo-vitamin, and although it is synthesised by the body, it decreases over time. Among its most important functions are contributing to cellular energy production and reducing the symptoms that appear over time (Anti-aging effect)
These types of molecules come from the foods we eat in the diet, especially animal proteins. To provide the antioxidant effect, these enzymes require cofactors such as iron, copper, selenium, magnesium, or zinc. The quality of the protein will influence the quality of the antioxidant enzymes. In some cases, such as glutathione, the precursors must be found in sufficient quantities: cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid. These enzymes include
- Superoxide dismutase (SOD)
- Glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase
These types of antioxidants are chemicals naturally found in plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes, etc.) and defend them from free radical damage. They are divided into:
- Allyl sulphides
A real “antioxidant food”
How is the Antioxidant Capacity of food measured?
To help neutralise the damage caused by free radicals we can start by including in our diet foods high concentrations of antioxidants.
The National Institute on Ageing is a health research organisation that has developed a table in which each food is scored according to its antioxidant power. This compilation is called ORAC (“Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity”). The best antioxidant-rich foods are thus revealed through in vitro experimentation. In this sense, the results may not be fully extrapolated to the human body, but nevertheless, it is a method for cataloguing these antioxidants foods.
Foods with a high concentration of antioxidants. Incredible benefits for our health
Top 10 Antioxidant Foods
The following list is a compilation of the best Foods Rich in Antioxidants, and as we have seen, they concentrate most of the previous ones, with their properties and protective characteristics:
Within this group we can include sub-genres such as: blueberry, redcurrant, açai berry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry… This type of fruit contains important phytochemicals that directly inhibit the binding to DNA of certain carcinogens. They are excellent sources of vitamin C, carotenoids, and minerals such as zinc, potassium, iron, calcium and magnesium.
They are known as a “superfood” because of their health properties due to their concentration of nutrients. They contain phytonutrients and as well as a number of types of polyphenols with properties, not only highly antioxidant, but can act as anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, anti-microbial, anti-viral, and as well as promote the maintenance of cardiovascular, urinary, and hepatic system health, and even be related to memory function.
Cinnamon is very easy to introduce in any culinary recipe or dessert
This recurrent species has a number of somewhat unknown health benefits. Among them, of course, its antioxidant capacity, the highest among spices. It possesses an important spectrum of micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. The antioxidant action is explained by the content of polyphenols, phenolic acid and flavonoids. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, regulates blood glucose and can protect the heart by reducing blood pressure.
It is a food belonging to the legume family, with a significant caloric and nutritional distribution. It is one of the main sources of protein for people who practice a vegan or vegetarian diet. They are loaded with vitamins, potassium, and fibre, and support the health of the digestive system, reduce blood cholesterol, and may prevent some types of cancer. In addition, due to their satiety effect, they are highly recommended in diets for weight control. In terms of their antioxidant potential, they are practically at the top of legumes. It provides a dose of manganese, acting as a cofactor and being necessary for the enzyme Superoxide dismutase to neutralise the chain reaction of free radicals.
Two ounces of pure chocolate a day to maintain our health
Chocolate is a very nutritious food,obviously referring to the sugar-free one. It has a high concentration of fibre, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, as well as potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. Given its fat content, if you are looking to lose weight, moderate consumption is advisable, but this does not prevent us from enjoying a few ounces every day. Chocolate is loaded with active organic components with an important antioxidant capacity: polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.
Broccoli undoubtedly takes the gold medal as a nutritious vegetable. This cruciferous vegetable contains more vitamin C than an orange and has more calcium than a glass of milk. In addition to minerals and vitamins, broccoli is full of disease-fighting chemicals called phytonutrients. Sulforaphane, a phytonutrient found in broccoli, has been shown to reduce the risk of many cancers.
Green tea contains high concentrations of polyphenols. These compounds work in the body with other chemicals to increase levels of fat oxidation and thermogenesis (a state created in the body by burning fat for fuel). On average, you should try to consume a minimum of three cups of green tea per day to obtain the effects of weight loss. Green tea has also demonstrated characteristics which can be preventive against cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol.
Pecan and macadamia nut varieties, in particular, are among the nuts with the highest levels of antitoxins, especially polyphenols. Other very important substances are also found, such as vitamin E, zinc, selenium, magnesium and calcium. The vegetable omega-3 content is also important.
There are many recipes to enjoy this fabulous food: salads, “salmorejo”, gazpachos, tomato juice…
Tomatoes are by far the richest source of a powerful anti-cancer agent called lycopene. In fact, the studies have shown that lycopene can fight the disease in a more powerful way than vitamin E and beta-carotene. Lycopene needs fat for optimal absorption into the body. Therefore, putting olive oil in tomato sauce is an excellent trick to increase your lycopene levels. In addition to the above list, red grapes, spinach, carrots and whole grains also offer abundant antioxidant content.
Garlic is used all over the world as a flavouring agent in any dish. The benefits of garlic have been well known for centuries, and raw garlic has been used as a natural antibiotic to kill some strains of harmful bacteria. In addition to acting as an anti-fungal agent, garlic extract is also useful in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, removing heavy metals from the body and preventing cancer. A garlic clove contains vitamins A, B and C, selenium, iodine, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium.
- Glutathione, the best antioxidant in the body
- Pycnogenol and its benefits
- Exercise and oxidative stress