What are antioxidants?

Vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and carotenoids like beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin are all examples of antioxidants. They are found in fruits and vegetables.  The role of antioxidants is to protect the body from cell damage.

Why do I need them in my diet?

Antioxidants have been shown in studies to counteract oxidative stress which can result in damaged cells and, in some cases, serious disease.  Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals which are highly unstable molecules.  They are formed in the body through normal body functions like exercise or digestion and our environment also exposes us to them, through certain foods we eat, cigarette smoke, pollution and sunlight.

How to I get them in my diet?

The best way is through lots and lots of vegetables and fruit.  A variety of different colours will get you the broadest variety which is important as different antioxidants do different things.  For example, lycopene (high in cooked tomatoes) is beneficial for the prostate (Tip for men: have a teaspoon of organic tomato puree every day) and lutein and zeaxanthin (found in kale, spinach and broccoli) are important for eye health. 

As for supplementation, there are many antioxidant supplements available but the research is confusing.  While some supplementation appears to beneficial, using high levels or using them long term could potentially be damaging.  While I do recommend antioxidant supplements to my clients in certain cases, the safest way to get your antioxidants is through your food.  The research here is clear: eating more vegetables and fruit lowers your risk of serious disease.