What Are Antioxidants?

This is actually a backward blog item. I began writing about coffee and its good and bad attributes. One of the good aspects of coffee is that it is a source of antioxidants. Fair enough. Then I read that coffee is actually the best source of antioxidants for most people. Wow! That is amazing. Why? Because, antioxidants are found in varying amounts in foods such as vegetables, fruits, grain cereals, eggs, some meats, poultry and fish, legumes and nuts. With all those excellent sources of antioxidants, coffee is the best source for most folks? I find that incredible. It seems a terrible statement on our collective diet. Of course, with 60% of the population overweight and 30% actually obese, maybe it’s not so strange. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to what we put in our mouths.

Blueberries are a berry good source of antioxidants

A little background. An antioxidant is a molecule capable of inhibiting the oxidation of other molecules. Antioxidants are intimately involved in prevention of cellular damage — the common pathway for cancer, aging, and a variety of diseases. Antioxidants may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

These names are counter-intuitive to me. Usually the prefix ‘anti’ suggests a negative while ‘free’ has positive connotations. However, in this situation, they are exactly the opposite. Antioxidants are very important in protecting our system as they fight free radicals that attack our cells.

Blueberries rank at the top of the fruit list for antioxidant content. Known for protecting your heart, blueberries also slow down and maybe even reverse the memory decline that comes with aging.


Endurance exercise can increase oxygen utilization from 10 to 20 times over the resting state, according to Rice University. This greatly increases the generation of free radicals, prompting concern about enhanced damage to muscles and other tissues. The question that arises is, how effectively can athletes defend against the increased free radicals resulting from exercise? Do athletes need to take extra antioxidants?

Because it is not possible to directly measure free radicals in the body, scientists have approached this question by measuring the by-products that result from free radical reactions. If the generation of free radicals exceeds the antioxidant defenses then one would expect to see more of these by-products. These measurements have been performed in athletes under a variety of conditions.

Several interesting concepts have emerged from these types of experimental studies. Regular physical exercise enhances the antioxidant defense system and protects against exercise induced free radical damage. This is an important finding because it shows how smart the body is about adapting to the demands of exercise. These changes occur slowly over time and appear to parallel other adaptations to exercise.

On the other hand, intense exercise in untrained individuals overwhelms defenses resulting in increased free radical damage. Thus, the “weekend warrior” who is predominantly sedentary during the week but engages in vigorous bouts of exercise during the weekend may be doing more harm than good. To this end there are many factors which may determine whether exercise induced free radical damage occurs, including degree of conditioning of the athlete, intensity of exercise, and diet.

Once again it comes down to exercising regularly. You don’t lose weight by going on crash diets and you don’t maintain your healthy body by exercising once a week.

Antioxidant Vitamins

Much research has recently focused on how antioxidant vitamins may reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Antioxidant vitamins — E, C and beta carotene (a form of vitamin A) — have potential health-promoting properties. Though the data are incomplete, up to 30 percent of Americans are taking some form of antioxidant supplement.

The American Heart Association doesn’t recommend using antioxidant vitamin supplements until more complete data are available. Just eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods daily from all the basic food groups.

A note of clarification: coffee actually contains the most antioxidants besides the fact that it is more widely consumed than the healthy fruits and veggies. Thanks, Jim.



Filed under aging, brain, calories, Exercise, healthy eating, Weight

2 responses to “What Are Antioxidants?

  1. Pingback: How Healthy is Watermelon? | Two Regular Guys Talking about Food, Exercise and Men's Health

  2. Pingback: How Good Are Pistachios For You? | Two Regular Guys Talking about Food, Exercise and Men's Health

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