Don’t Blow Up My Spot

The question: What is an antioxidant?? I feel silly because they’ve been talked about for so long and I know they’re good for me but… what are they and WHY are they good for me??

(let me take a second to caps lock this) TOTALLY AWESOME QUESTION!!!!!!

I asked roughly 15 people upon receiving this question if they knew what an antioxidant was and why it was good for them. 100% of the people polled said they had no idea. One respondent said, “I think it boosts my immune system and is just good for health.” That, I must say, was the best (and closest to correct) answer I received. I can see, however, why people get so confused. After all when you look for a clear explanation, you tend to get a definition instead; full of terms like ‘oxidizing’ and ‘reducing’. But, unless you’ve carried your general chemistry notes with you through life, you probably don’t remember what those terms mean. Additionally, it becomes more confusing when the term is thrown around like crazy these days. My friend Craig and I recently had a convo regarding this very issue during which he pointed out to me the tendency of the term to be thrown around as a sheer marketing tool. While I agree with Craig in that this term ‘antioxidant’ is now loosely used for fun and sales- I do believe that the foods and products that hold true to the term are well worth your time… and consumption.

So to explain antioxidants Id like to reference my all time favorite professor, the UMD famous organic chem teacher, Dr. Dixon. Her coined term “electrons are where its at,”is pretty on point if one needs to understand antioxidants. Turns out she was right all along. Electrons ARE where its at- and understanding how they function in the body is the key to understanding antioxidants. Antioxidants are essentially geared to halt the activity of free radicals. If a free radical is running around in your system then that means that it has an unpaired electron in its outer most shell (in lame man terms- its lookin to hook up in a speedy way to get stabilized and will jump on anything to get its fix- one night stand style). So its very reactive in that it is likely to take electrons from other molecules- leaving THEM unstable and hazardous. This careless electron activity can do serious cell damage and, ultimately, may lead to things like cancer, or heart and neurological diseases.

So the term antioxidant means this on the bottom line (after getting through all the confusing science jargon): its a molecule that can donate an electron to stabilize the free radical yet remain stable itself so it doesn’t continue to harm any surrounding cells. So when you consume ‘antioxidants’- the idea is that they will help stabilize the free radicals roamin’ around your domain, and that’s a good thing. Great antioxidants include molecules such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and the trace mineral, selenium.

While these are super awesome additions to your health and prevention regimen, they do not trump lifestyle. So regulate your UV exposure and alcohol consumption, don’t smoke, and watch you nitrosamine intake (found in smoked foods). With a little luck, the antioxidants will assist in not damaging your precious cells.

So that’s how antioxidants work!!! Now go drink some OJ, pound some blueberries, eat a carrot, munch on vitamin E rich almonds and selenium loaded brazil nuts or just play it safe with a bunch of fruits and veggies. If you get confused fall back on the color scheme. If its orange or yellowish (a member of the carotenoid fam) or blue, red and purple-esk (the anthocyanin fam), its likely loaded with electron donation ready antioxidants. YUM YUM! Enjoy!



One Response

  1. […] Walnuts: Snack on a few of these between meals to curb hunger just a little bit longer.  They are packed with Omega-3s, magnesium, vitamin E, folate, and have high antioxidant activity. […]

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