When the cells in your body become oxidized (a complex process where they are chemically combined with oxygen), they produce compounds known as free radicals. Free radicals cause damage to cells, proteins, and even your DNA, which can contribute to diseases and accelerate aging. Free radicals are fairly ubiquitous in the environment as well as present in everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe.
As scary as free radicals may seem, your body has its own defenses to keep free radicals at bay and minimize any damage they may incur. Antioxidants are molecules that can prevent free radicals from causing cellular damage without becoming destabilized themselves. Your body synthesizes some antioxidants on its own, but it’s generally not enough to completely balance out the flood of free radicals. Thankfully, you can get more antioxidants from your diet. Let’s take a look at some natural antioxidants that you may not know about.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient. While you may commonly know vitamin C as a remedy for the common cold and flu, it actually provides a wide variety of necessary functions. Vitamin C plays an important role in the production of collagen, the main structural protein that is found in skin, muscle, and connective tissue and integral to healing wounds. Vitamin C also fuels your immune system and improves the absorption of iron. Of course, vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant, helping to protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Fruits and vegetables are the best natural source of vitamin C. Most people know that oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits contain vitamin C, but strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, and peppers actually have more vitamin C by volume.
The amount of vitamin C you need can depend on your age. Generally, most adult women need about 75 milligrams of vitamin C per day, while adult men need up to 90 milligrams per day. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Consuming too much vitamin C can lead to some stomach issues, including diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps because the “acid” in ascorbic acid irritates gastrointestinal tissue. Try a liposomal vitamin C which can increase absorption without causing stomach distress.
Curcumin is the main active ingredient found in turmeric. It’s a curcuminoid, which is a type of natural pigment compound responsible for giving turmeric and other plants a vibrant yellow color. Thanks to curcumin, turmeric has become a popular ingredient for more than just providing spice and color to dishes.
Studies on curcumin suggest a wide range of potential benefits. Curcumin can help to inhibit the activity of enzymes involved in inflammatory responses, allowing for pain relief. Some evidence suggests curcumin may support well-balanced blood sugar levels by helping to reduce glucose production, stimulate glucose uptake, and increase the secretion of insulin from the pancreas. Curcumin may also offer similar functions as vitamin C by helping to accelerate wound healing and improve the collagen synthesis.
Curcumin possesses potent antioxidant properties that contribute to many of its potential benefits. While curcumin is most often found in turmeric, the amount of turmeric you put in your food probably will not add up to enough to provide many benefits. Curcumin supplements with liposomal delivery can maximize your intake and results.
Bovine colostrum is a milky fluid produced by cows in the first few days after giving birth. While it is not an antioxidant in and of itself, colostrum is packed with antioxidants including glutathione, along with a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and antibodies that can help to fight harmful bacteria and viruses that may contribute to acute illnesses and diseases.
Colostrum is also rich in lactoferrin, a protein that plays a key role in the healthy function of the immune system. Evidence shows that lactoferrin acts as an antioxidant and can help in a variety of other areas within the body. Lactoferrin can help regulate iron levels and bone metabolism. Lactoferrin may also help inhibit your body’s inflammatory response.
Glutathione is considered one of the most important antioxidants because it exists within your cells, boosting the activities of other vitamins and antioxidants. Glutathione is a peptide made up of three main amino acids (cysteine, glycine, and glutamate). Every cell in your body produces it, and some researchers believe that measuring glutathione levels can be an accurate predictor of how long you will live.
As an antioxidant, glutathione can effectively combat free radicals and clean up the damage that they cause. It has been shown to support a variety of other functions, including:
- Creation of enzymes
- Digestion of fats
- Protein usage
- Preventing lipid peroxidation
Most of the glutathione you need is produced by your body and is often only limited by the amount of cysteine you produce, but it doesn’t hurt to reinforce your glutathione that with some dietary sources. Asparagus is one of the richest sources of glutathione, offering 28.3 grams per 100 gram serving. Avocadoes are a close second with 27.7 grams of glutathione per 100 gram serving.
Some chemicals, including glucoraphanin, betalains, and cyanohydroxybutene, can contribute to the production of glutathione and recycle glutathione that has been oxidized and turn it back into its non-oxidized form. These chemicals can be found in a variety of dietary sources, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and turmeric.
Quercetin is a type of flavonoid antioxidant that is technically considered a plant pigment, creating vibrant colors in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Studies suggest that quercetin and similar flavonoids offer anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-allergen properties. Quercetin has also been found to exert strong effects on the immune system and inflammation caused by leukocytes.
The best news about quercetin is that it’s easy to find. Quercetin is considered one of the most abundant antioxidants in the modern human diet and can be found in basically any plant with a red, green, or purple color. Some sources of quercetin include:
- Spinach, kale, and other leafy green vegetables
- Broccoli, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables
- Dark cherries, blueberries, and blackberries
Lutein is a carotenoid antioxidant that is most well-known for supporting eye health. In fact, of the over 600 carotenoids found in nature, lutein is just one of two that is sent directly to macular portion of your eyes, actively fighting against cataracts and macular degeneration.
Along with eye health, lutein offers powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Studies also show that lutein can maintain skin health by helping to filter high energy wavelengths of light, thereby slowing down oxidative stress. Other evidence suggests that lutein may help to support heart health. Low levels of lutein in the blood were found to contribute to the thickening of arterial walls.
Lutein cannot be synthesized within the body, meaning that it can only be obtained through diet. Lutein can be found in a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Some excellent sources of lutein include:
- Collard greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Turnip greens
Resveratrol is a polyphenolic bioflavonoid found in a variety of plants (along with foods and drinks derived from plants). This antioxidant is categorized as a phytoestrogen as it positively interacts with estrogen receptors. Plants create resveratrol as a protective mechanism to combat environmental stressors.
Along with its potent antioxidant properties, resveratrol can help support cardiovascular health by improving circulation and protecting against bad cholesterol and the formation of blood clots. It can also help to support cellular and tissue health and support a healthy digestive system.
Although resveratrol can be obtained by supplements, plants are the most abundant source of resveratrol. The antioxidant is particularly common in the skin of red grapes. Other sources of Resveratrol include:
- Raw cocoa
- Itadori tea
Red wine is one of the best-known sources of resveratrol, thanks in part to the grape skins and seeds used in the fermentation process. However, don’t go overboard on your red wine intake. The alcohol content can counteract the good effects of the antioxidants. Drink responsibly.
Selenium is a trace element that is nutritionally essential for all humans. It is a constituent of over two dozen selenoproteins and exists in organic and inorganic forms (both of which can act as good dietary sources). Most selenium in animal and human tissues comes in the form of selenomethione, which can combine with the amino acid methionine in body proteins. Selenium can help to support the adrenal and thyroid glands and maintain cardiovascular health. It may also help against certain viruses.
Selenium is naturally present in the soil, water, and most foods. Organ meats and seafood tend to have the richest selenium content, though Brazil nuts have the most selenium compared to any other food. In an American diet, selenium usually comes from grains, poultry, fish, and eggs.
Antioxidants play an integral in your overall health and wellbeing. Best of all, most antioxidant-rich foods also offer a diverse range of other vitamins and minerals, so it’s a win all around.