Antioxidants in food: protection against free radicals

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Antioxidants play a very important role in the human body, because they counteract the negative influence of so-called free radicals. The interaction between these two substances occurs during the process of oxidation. When there is an equilibrium between antioxidants and free radicals in this oxidation process, there is no danger to health. However, when free radicals have the upper hand on the antioxidants, the balance between these two substances is disrupted and oxidative stress is called. In that case, the chance of illness and health problems is greater. A healthy way of life can help limit the number of free radicals, with an emphasis on healthy food such as fruits and vegetables. In addition, antioxidants can also be found in herbs, chocolate, rye bread and tea.

What is oxidation?

Oxidation literally means: connecting with oxygen . Oxidation is a chemical process in which oxygen acts on objects and substances, which causes them to get damaged and gradually decay. An example of this is rust, which causes damage to iron over time. The browning and decaying of an open-cut fruit is also an example of oxidation. To protect food from spoilage, antioxidants are added. These antioxidants are indicated with an ‘E’ number in the list of ingredients on the label of the relevant product.

Body

But an oxidation process also occurs in the human body. For example, the body has to use oxygen to function, such as for example digesting food or making physical efforts. A good example of oxidation in the body is the aging of the skin. By coming into contact with oxygen, the quality of the skin will gradually decrease and you will be able to see traces of it: think of wrinkles, skin stains, sagging of the skin, etc. …

What are antioxidants?

In the above process of oxidation, antioxidants and free radicals play an important role. Free radicals is not a name of a political group, but of waste that is released during oxidation and can cause damage to the body. However, these free radicals are controlled and attacked by antioxidants. Antioxidant : as the name says, these substances work against oxidation. Antioxidants limit the damage of oxidation so that a kind of balance is created. It is only when free radicals get the upper hand that damage can occur to cells and tissues. In that case, one speaks of oxidative stressand the chance of illness and health problems is greater. However, free radicals can also have a beneficial function for the body because of the fact that they fight harmful bacteria.

How do free radicals counteract?

A healthy lifestyle is necessary to limit the number of free radicals in the body so that there is less chance of health problems. For example, the number of free radicals is higher when you smoke or when you expose your body to sunlight for a long time. The use of alcohol also increases the amount of free radicals in the body. By limiting your alcohol consumption, not smoking and not overdoing with sunbathing, you can help your body to ensure a balance between free radicals and antioxidants.

Antioxidants in food

The function of antioxidants is thus to attack free radicals, which is in fact a normal biological process. You can support the antioxidants in their action by taking more nutrition that contains antioxidants. Antioxidants are mainly found in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, manganese, beta-carotene and selenium. If you want to eat foods that contain a lot of antioxidants to help your body fight free radicals, you can choose from vegetables, fruit, grains, herbs and other foods. The list below is not exhaustive but gives you a good overview of foods that are rich in antioxidants.

Supplements with antioxidants

In principle, your body has sufficient antioxidants if you eat healthy and balanced, with a particular emphasis on fruit and vegetables. If you have a hard time keeping a balanced diet and do not think you are taking enough antioxidants from food, you can take extra supplements. In some cases, the intake of antioxidant supplements can help support the body in its fight against free radicals. Supplements with antioxidants are, however, subject to criticism and controversy in 2018 because the positive effect on health has never been demonstrated scientifically and consistently.

Advice

In case of a too high intake of these supplements, an opposite effect can occur and damage to health can occur. It is therefore wrong to think that a high intake of supplements with antioxidants can protect you against diseases such as cancer, or that you can live longer. An appropriate expression here is: “excess harms”. In any case, it is advised to first seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking supplements containing antioxidants.

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