One of the tenets of TD Fitness is education. Along with training and giving back, we seek to educate you and others on health, fitness, and nutrition. There are so many terms that are frequently used in health and fitness talk, one of these terms being “antioxidants.” So, with this post my goal is that you learn a bit more than you already knew, and have a working knowledge of what the term means as you continue to make the best health choices for yourself and your family.
Antioxidants – What are they?
When it comes to nutrition terms, this is one you’ve probably heard over and over again. You may even be familiar with the types of foods that contain antioxidants. But what are they, exactly?
An antioxidant is the name given to a class of chemicals that destroy oxidants; oxidants generally meaning substances that are harmful to your body’s cells.
Have you ever seen metals that have rusted when exposed to rain and other elements? Rust is a form of oxidation, which causes the metal to breakdown at the cellular level. The same type of breakdown occurs at the cellular level in our bodies. Antioxidants help to reverse this process.
Antioxidants are only found in plant foods and vary greatly from one food to the next. They actually have the potential to work against and prevent almost all of our most common diseases: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc. Each of these conditions stem from different types of inflammation, a byproduct of excess oxidation. When there’s an abundance of antioxidants in the body, they provide protection against oxidation to prevent inflammation. Over time, this can help prevent the formation of disease.
Other Health Benefits
Weight Loss – There is evidence that certain hormones like insulin work best with enhanced levels of antioxidants in our bodies. This is likely due to the fact that antioxidants can reduce inflammation, a condition that disables insulin function.
Boosting Metabolism – Antioxidants can actually boost our overall metabolism and increase fat burn. Certain foods that are high in antioxidants can actually promote a higher overall metabolic rate, even though they may be higher in calories. Nuts are a great example. Other examples are concord grapes, green tea, cocoa, beans and onions. These foods all enhance our ability to burn fat in the body.
Increased Performance – There is increasing evidence that oxidative damage can stress and fatigue muscles, especially in long distance endurance athletes. Exercise itself causes oxidation, but also increases natural levels of antioxidants in the body. Foods such as green tea, ginseng and beets have documented performance benefits due to their antioxidant-rich levels.
Getting Antioxidants in Your Diet
So with all of the health benefits antioxidants have to offer, why are antioxidant supplements more prevalent? Drug companies have tirelessly tried to create a pill with concentrated antioxidants. To date, however, supplements have shown that they lack the benefits found in whole food sources. In other words, you have to eat or drink the foods that contain antioxidants in order to reap the health benefits. This is likely because antioxidants don’t just work by themselves, but actually have synergistic effects. For example, the antioxidants in apples may not work unless they’re digested with the fiber from apple skins.
Nevertheless, while antioxidants can’t be found in a pill, they can be found in a host of common foods such as beans, berries, grapes, apples, and nuts, to name a few. Antioxidants are not listed under nutrition facts, but food labels themselves sometimes note the food as a “good source of antioxidants”.
Even spices can be a great source of antioxidants. Some of the most powerfully concentrated antioxidant sources are cinnamon, ground cloves, matcha (as in green tea), and amla (paprika-type pepper). Each of these are powders that can significantly boost a person’s antioxidant level with just a teaspoon or less!
The benefits of antioxidants are plenty. Remember to vary your diet and include berries and veggies to up your antioxidant levels. A healthy, varied, and consistent diet is your best bet in getting the nutrients you need and promoting long term health!