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The Science behind Antioxidants

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In this blog post, I want to dive more deeply into what exactly the science behind antioxidants is. This is a topic that I always talk about in connection with the recipes. A lot of whole foods (which primarily make up the recipes on Life & Lem🍋ns) have antioxidants. I know I constantly tell you that they combat free radicals but what exactly does that mean…? I thought I would provide a bit more background and insight on this topic. So that you truly know how good these are for you!! I am also highlighting some of the recipes with particularly high antioxidant content through the pictures provided in this article. Simply click on them and it will lead you to the recipe 💕.

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants, in their simplest form, are substances that may protect your cells against free radicals. These free radicals can cause diseases, including heart disease and cancer. 

What are free radicals?

I will save you the very scientific definition here (and the bucketloads of chemistry that I read as part of the research for this). In essence, it is a molecule that generates energy through oxygen. The molecule now exists independently and contains one unpaired electron. This unpaired electron makes them unstable and highly reactive. They can either donate or accept an electron from other molecules, which changes their structure. Free radicals are produced through internal sources (e.g. stress, inflammation, excessive exercise, cancer), or through external sources (e.g. pollution, smoke, radiation, medication, alcohol).

Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress

At low or moderate levels free radicals help with cell responsiveness and immune function. However, when the body contains an overload of free radicals, it generates something called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can seriously damage DNA, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. It can also lead to chronic and degenerative diseases. Additionally, oxidative stress can also speed up the aging process.

The Link between Oxidative Stress and Antioxidants

When our body detects oxidative stress, it counteracts this with antioxidants either produced internally or supplied through food. The roles of antioxidants are to neutralize the excess of free radicals that are in the body and bring it back to a state of balance. They are also meant to contribute to disease prevention. The antioxidant effectively destroys the free radical. However, it then also becomes oxidized, which is the reason why resources must be constantly restored in the body.

Antioxidants also do not work as a “blanket” approach. Some antioxidants are great at combating free radicals in one part of the body but less good at combating in another (hence why we need variety and abundance). As you know, there are several antioxidants that we discuss time and time again. Those include, amongst others, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (both amazing for your skin!!), beta carotene, lycopene, flavonoids, selenium, and omega 3 and 6. 

I hope the above has provided you with a bit more insight into what the science behind antioxidants is and lets you truly (and fully) appreciate how good antioxidants are for us!! 🤗

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