Understanding Antioxidants | Veggiecation© a Culinary-Nutrition Education Program About Vegetables
Monday, 23 September 2013 18:45

Understanding Antioxidants

Foods with “antioxidant” properties are featured or mentioned so often when it comes to eating well that they have become indicators for healthy food.  When the word is used to define a fruit or vegetable, it’s often just assumed that the product being talked about is good for you.  However, while it’s important to eat foods that benefit your health, it’s equally important to know the reasons behind such claims.  A basic understanding of terms will allow you to sort through the facts and fads of healthy eating.


Here’s a simple introduction to the world of antioxidants for the interested folks out there who want to know more!



So what does this word mean and why should we care?


An antioxidant is a chemical that neutralizes the harmful effects of its counterpart, the oxidant.  Oxidants form for a variety of reasons and they are impossible to avoid. 

Oxidants can be caused by:

- Inflammation

- Viruses

- Chemicals

- Radiation

- Cigarette smoke

- Food digestion – turning food into energy

- Exercising



You may hear the term “free radicals” when discussing antioxidants.  Oxidants produce free radicals and it is the free radicals that are linked to cancer and aging. The most important thing to remember is that free radicals cause cell damage and in order to preserve our health, we want our cells to be as strong as possible!  Click here for more information!


Where can we get some of these antioxidants everyone’s talking about?


We can attack free radicals and oxidants by eating foods that help maintain our naturally occurring antioxidant systems.  It’s important to nourish our bodies with foods that are rich in the nutrients that help us manufacture our own antioxidant systems.  These foods fight cell damage and work together to prevent free radical damage.


Key nutrients to look out for and where to find them:

  • Selenium – Crimini and shitake mushrooms, mustard seeds, oats, tofu, sunflower seeds, broccoli, brown rice, garlic, asparagus, and spinach.
  • Carotenoids – Sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens, carrots, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, cantaloupe, bell peppers, broccoli, asparagus, papaya, tomatoes, cayenne pepper, green peas, Brussels sprouts,grapefruit, green beans, watermelon, apricots, parsley, celery, olives, figs, and summer/winter squash.
  • Vitamin E – Sunflower seeds, swiss chard, almonds, spinach, collard greens, kale, papaya, olives, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and kiwi.
  • Vitamin C – Bell peppers, parsley, broccoli, strawberries, cauliflower, romaine lettuce, Brussels sprouts, papaya, kale, kiwi, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, cabbage, tomatoes, Swiss chard, collard greens, raspberries asparagus, celery, spinach, pineapple, green beans.


Here are some other foods high in antioxidants, according to ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) units. The list below is comprised of the most common, antioxidant dense ingredients from their database.  

  • Herbs – Oregano, rosemary, thyme
  • Spices – Tumeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin
  • Other – Acai, cocoa (unsweetened)


By making sure to maintain a diet full of antioxidants, you can prevent the effects that cell damage has on our bodies! Our tip is to always eat well-balanced meals that are full of colorful produce.

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