The Lowdown on Antioxidants

Antioxidants form part of the body’s natural defence network against the potentially harmful effects of free radicals.

Free radicals are produced through the process of oxidation which occurs during many of the normal chemical reactions that take place in our bodies, as well as being triggered by exposure to cigarette smoke, sunlight and other pollutants.  They cause damage to the cells in our body and may be one factor in the development of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Antioxidants destroy free radicals, preventing the damage that they can cause.  We therefore need a good balance between antioxidants and free radicals for our body cells to stay healthy.  If we don’t consume enough antioxidants, free radicals become present in excess and may contribute to early ageing and an increased risk of degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease and cataracts.

While many people head for a supplement when they think of antioxidants, you’ll get much more benefit by consuming your antioxidants from a wide variety of foods.  The best sources of antioxidants are plant foods including vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and wholegrains, as well as wine and tea.

While there are a wide variety of antioxidants in food, all with different benefits, following are some of the more important antioxidants and their food sources:

  • Beta-carotene is found in carrots, pumpkin, kumera, mangoes, apricots and spinach.
  • Flavonoids are found in tea, green tea, citrus fruits, red wine, onion and apples.
  • Indoles are found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
  • Isoflavonoids are found in soybeans, tofu and legumes (lentils, chickpeas and dried beans).
  • Lignans are found in linseeds, sesame seeds, bran, whole grains and vegetables.
  • Lutein is found in corn, and leafy greens like spinach.
  • Lycopene is found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon.
  • Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, berries, broccoli, spinach, capsicum and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
  • Zinc is found in seafood, lean meat, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products.

The key to optimising your antioxidant intake is to eat a wide variety of plant foods including a range of different coloured fruit and vegetables each day.  A good starting point is going for 2 and 5 (that’s 2 fruit and 5 vegies each day, with a variety of colours) – according to the latest Australian national health survey, only one in twenty Australian adults were meeting these recommendations, so there’s plenty of room for improvement!.

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