An antioxidant definition that is easy to understand is in order it seems.
The term "antioxidant" has become so common in our health improvement language, but what does it really mean?
In order to get a really good antioxidant definition, we're going to dissect the term "antioxidant" itself.
This won't be as gooey as dissecting frogs in high school biology, heh heh heh…
First is what "anti-" means.
"Anti-" is a prefix that means, in this sense, "acts against, counteracts or prevents, cures or neutralizes."
So this part of the antioxidant definition means "something that counteracts an oxidant."
So what on earth is an "oxidant?"
Well, I could just say that an oxidant is something that oxidizes, but I suspect that wouldn't help your understanding very much.
No doubt you've heard of oxidizing and oxidation.
What exactly is it?
"To oxidize" means to combine with oxygen.
So "antioxidant" literally means "to counteract oxidization."
I thought that the body needed to combine with oxygen.
Isn't that how metabolism works?
Most definitely it does!!!
And with proper nutrition, the body can handle a normal amount of oxidation.
But here's where it gets interesting!
The process of oxidation can produce particles called "free radicals."
Free radicals in the body are basically incomplete molecules and atoms.
Imagine something being blown up.
Particles fly everywhere.
This is an extremely general comparison, but I want to give you a better concept of this!
The explosion could be compared to oxidation. The particles flying around could be compared to free radicals.
Free radicals are little "incomplete" particles. They are lonely little critters and look for something to grab onto.
They're like parasites in the sense that they look for some "whole" particle to attach themselves to so that they feel "complete" again. Like Dr. Evil and Mini Me.
So what do they do in the body?
Free radicals attach themselves to other cells and tissue and cause deterioration of those cells and tissues.
And they cause a "chain reaction" of deterioration because they "steal" a part from whole cells and tissues to complete themselves.
Then those particles in turn have to "steal" parts from other whole particles, cells and tissues. And so the madness grows!
So how do we stop the madness??
Antioxidants to the rescue!!!
These are the benefits of antioxidants.
Antioxidants counteract or neutralize free radicals and their destructive effects.
Earlier in this antioxidant definition, I mentioned that the body is designed to handle a certain amount of oxidation and free radical activity.
Free radicals are produced through the normal process of metabolism.
However, there are additional sources of free radicals in our environment these days.
Indoor and outdoor air pollution, home cleaning products, personal care products and cigarette smoke are common sources of free radicals.
The current "standard American diet" consists of fast foods, heavy on fats, breads, sugars and fatty meats.
These types of foods do not contain antioxidants in any beneficial amount. Combine that with an increasingly toxic, free radical-laden environment and what do you think the result is?
A good antioxidant definition would include an example.
It's doubtful that you'll ever hear someone say, "Hey, I'm going to the store to pick up some antioxidants... ya need anything?"
Certain foods and nutrients have antioxidant attributes.
Here is a list of the top 20 sources of antioxidants in commonly consumed foods per the American Chemical Society.
"Largest USDA Study Of Food Antioxidants Reveals Best Sources."
Science Daily 17 June 2004:
1. Small red bean (dried), 1/2 cup
2. Wild blueberry, 1 cup
3. Red kidney bean (dried), 1/2 cup
4. Pinto bean, 1/2 cup
5. Blueberry (cultivated), 1 cup
6. Cranberry, 1 cup (whole)
7. Artichoke (cooked hearts), 1 cup
8. Blackberry, 1 cup
9. Prune, 1/2 cup
10. Raspberry, 1 cup
11. Strawberry, 1 cup
12. Red delicious apple, 1
13. Granny Smith apple, 1
14. Pecan, 1 ounce
15. Sweet cherry, 1 cup
16. Black plum, 1
17. Russet potato, 1 cooked
18. Black bean (dried), 1/2 cup
19. Plum, 1
20. Gala apple, 1
I'm sure you've heard information like Vitamin C and E are good antioxidants, which is true.
If you look at it, the foods in the list above normally contain those vitamins. Many more nutrients than those on this list have antioxidant properties.
It is most beneficial to obtain antioxidants through fresh food because your body can assimilate and use the antioxidants from fresh food much more efficiently.
Also, organically grown foods have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than conventionally grown foods.
If you are supplementing a healthy diet, go for whole food supplements and teas.
Some foods are called "superfoods" because they are high in antioxidants. Check out this informative article on superfoods and antioxidants.
Tea is another excellent source of antioxidants.
One of the health benefits of white tea, a delicate tea, is that it has very high levels of antioxidants.
I drink a blend of white and green tea to help lower my blood sugar levels if they go wacko and it helps tremendously.
That's one reason I personally know that tea really does have health benefits!
There are increasing amounts of research and information about antioxidants and their role in maintaining good health coming to light, as well as more information on sources of food with high antioxidant properties, for example, gogi berries, acai berries and wheatgrass.
Look into these things if they interest you, especially now that you've got a good antioxidant definition.
It's pretty obvious that in today's world, a diet with plenty of foods and high quality supplements having antioxidant properties is key to health and vitality.
Death to free radicals :)!!
health begins with good information."
- B.B. Martin