Antioxidants and Why You Need Them
Updated: Jan 23
I love my cup of coffee in the morning. It's part of my morning routine. I like the smell and the feeling of the hot mug in my hands especially when it’s cold in the morning like it is now. One cup is perfect for me so in the afternoons I switch to black or green tea. However, coffee and tea are more than just tasty beverages, they are a good source of antioxidants in our diets. We hear “antioxidants” thrown around a lot when it comes to health, but what is an antioxidant and why is it healthy? I wanted to dive a little deeper into the health benefits of tea and other antioxidant foods and share a recipe for chai tea, which is a favorite cold weather beverage of mine and packed with antioxidants.
What is an antioxidant and why do we need them?
To understand why we need antioxidants we have to imagine what is going on at the molecular level. Electrons orbit around the center of an atom and if there are the right amount of electrons the molecule is considered stable. They become an unstable free radical when an electron is lost through such factors as pollution, smoking, alcohol, high blood sugar, radiation, or infection. This loss causes them to "steal" electrons from other molecules like DNA and our cell membranes, damaging them in the process. This is where antioxidants come to the rescue. They donate the electrons the free radicals are looking for. Now the molecule is stable again and less likely to cause cellular damage. If the body becomes overloaded with oxidative stress caused by free radicals, diseases such as heart disease, liver disease and cancers can develop.
What are good sources of antioxidants?
Now that you know what role antioxidants play in your health you may be wondering how you can get these all important nutrients in your diet. Antioxidants are found abundantly in plant based foods so eating a diet that includes fruits and vegetables is key. There are many vitamins, minerals and plant-based compounds that have antioxidant properties. Check out the list below for some ideas on which foods are good sources.
Leeks, onions, garlic - contain sulfur compounds that help our body make its own antioxidant called glutathione
Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, grapes - contain anthocyanin
Pumpkin, carrots, spinach, parsley - contain beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A
Seafood - contains copper, selenium and zinc
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage - contain indoles
Black and green tea, citrus fruit, red wine, onion, apples - contain flavonoids
Green leafy vegetables - contain lutein, vitamins A, C, & E
Egg yolks - contain vitamins A & E, and lutein
Avocado, nuts, seeds, whole grains - contain vitamin E
I want to leave you with a recipe for one of my favorite cold weather drinks that is full of antioxidants - chai tea. I love how smooth and creamy it is and the warmth of the spices. You can use non-dairy milk if you prefer and adjust the brown sugar to taste.
Oxidative stress can be counteracted if we have the right foods supplying us with the super important group of nutrients called antioxidants. Antioxidants are found in a number of foods especially fruits and vegetables and is one more reason for eating a diet high in plant-based foods.
What are your favorite foods on that list? If you tried the chai, what did you think? Leave a comment and share!
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Arnarson, Atli. “Antioxidants Explained in Human Terms.” Healthline, 15 June 2017, www.healthline.com/nutrition/antioxidants-explained#section4.
Department of Health & Human Services. “Antioxidants.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 30 Sept. 2012, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/antioxidants.
Gotter, Ana. “Top Foods with Polyphenols.” Healthline, 23 May 2017, www.healthline.com/health/polyphenols-foods.
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