Do We Really Need Antioxidants? — Here's The Truth!

greatist antioxidants embedPhoto: Courtesy of Greatist.
Full disclosure: sometimes, we're lazy girls. So, whether it's seven ways to simplify our morning routine or how to make our time at the gym actually enjoyable, we're into it. And to keep us on track, we've turned to Greatist, because they've got us excited about staying healthy — and having fun doing it.
Advertisement
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away," and if modern food packaging is to be believed, that's often due to a hefty dose of antioxidants. From sports drinks to protein bars, we're constantly bombarded with foods claiming to be packed with these supposedly healthy compounds. But what exactly are antioxidants, and how many of them do we really need?
THE NEED-TO-KNOW
Antioxidants are nutrients — including vitamins like E and C — that prevent or slow oxidative damage throughout the body. Without busting out the biochemistry books, when cells use oxygen, they naturally generate free radicals (by-products) which can cause cellular damage. Antioxidants act as free radical bounty hunters that often prevent and repair damage done by the free radicals [1]. Oxidative damage and free radicals can contribute to serious health problems such as heart disease, macular degeneration, and diabetes [2] [3] [4].
But while many of today's popular health foods contain massive doses of antioxidants like vitamin C, loading the body with as many of the nutrients as possible isn't the cure-all some might hope; in fact, ingesting large quantities of antioxidants might actually contribute to some of the very categories of disease they're touted to prevent. One now-famous study — which was actually stopped early because of the risk to patient health — showed an association between taking beta-carotene supplements with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers [5]. And other research has come up short in definitively linking antioxidant supplements to increased longevity or decreased risks of serious disease.
Advertisement
YOUR ACTION PLAN
But while the evidence isn't strong in support of antioxidant supplements as the key to good health, that doesn't mean they don't serve an important purpose in our diets. Consuming nutrients like vitamin C in normal doses — easily acquired in many fresh, whole foods — can help the body function normally and fight off infection. Upping those quantities to thousands of times the daily recommended value probably won't do much additional good.
Luckily, a healthy diet packed with antioxidants is relatively easy to stock up on, so grab a pen and paper and add these to the shopping list for a natural nutrient boost:
Vitamin E: Nuts, whole grains, vegetables, vegetable oil, and liver oil.
Vitamin C: Citrus fruit, tomatoes, green leafy veggies, and strawberries.
Vitamin A: Apricots, cantaloupe, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, collards, and prunes.
Selenium: Brazil nuts, fish/shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, garlic, and milk.
Flavonoids: Soy, red wine, pomegranate, cranberries, blueberries, and tea.
Lignan: Flax seed, barley, rye, and oats [6].
Lutein: Dark green fruits and vegetables such as kiwi, spinach, brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli.
Advertisement

More from Diet & Nutrition

If you've ever wondered why you go through several cups of coffee a day while your best friend stops at two, researchers may have found the answer — and ...
Halloween (prime vampire season) is coming up, so it's only natural if you've been eating more garlic lately. The only downside of all that supernatural ...
When you get pregnant, the food advice you receive tends to revolve around what you supposedly can't eat or drink: sushi, seafood, alcohol, soft cheeses...
On Wednesday, I was in one of those elevators with a news and advertising screen when I was faced yet again with the results of the month of sobriety ...
If you live in the Northeast of the U.S., you might want to check on the meat in your fridge. The CDC announced on Saturday that it is investigating a ...
How many times have you woken up with a disgusting hangover after a heavy night and vowed never to drink again? Well, this common plight could one day be...
It seems like everyone’s looking for ways to eat more protein. And there’s a good reason for it, too: Often known as the “building block” of the body, ...
While you'll probably never hear anyone raving about the deliciousness of their school cafeteria hot lunch, it's a much better alternative to not having it...
On Monday, Kellogg's recalled 10,000 Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles packages that were potentially contaminated. And on Wednesday, Blue Bell Creameries ...
If you haven't yet heard the word “gluten,” you've probably been living under a rock. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus have embraced the...
If Stranger Things reawakened your childhood love for the ubiquitous Eggo waffle, we have some pretty upsetting news. On Monday, Kellogg's voluntarily ...
Apple cider vinegar's (ACV) reputation as a miracle cure certainly isn't new — supposedly even the Ancient Greeks were into the stuff. Today, though, the...
Hackers leaked the medical files of Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Venus Williams, and basketball player Elena Delle Donne early Tuesday, the World Anti-...
This article was originally published on April 26, 2016. Yes, it's true that health food can be staggeringly expensive — especially if it's something ...