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Antioxidants: what are they and how to get them in the diet

Antioxidants essentially work to fight off disease-causing free radicals from the body. According to Harvard Health,“the body generates free radicals as the inevitable byproducts of turning food into energy. Free radicals are also formed after exercising or exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, and sunlight.” It’s important to get plenty of antioxidants because in high levels, free radicals can cause damage to cells and genetic material in the body. This damage is called oxidative stress which eventually leads to chronic diseases. Additionally, too many free radicals in the body can make LDL cholesterol (the ‘worst’ kind) get trapped in an artery wall which increases risk of heart attack. Antioxidants are plentiful in fruits and veggies and, “work by generously giving electrons to free radicals without turning into electron-scavenging substances themselves. They are also involved in mechanisms that repair DNA and maintain the health of cells.” (Harvard). Antioxidants from different types of foods are all different and have unique biological makeup.

Incorporating all three of the major groups, carotenoids, allyl sulfides and polyphenols, is best for optimal health. In addition to other benefits, foods in these groups are prebiotics which help to feed the ‘good’ gut bacteria so it can work to support healthy immune system function. Polyphenols are one of the 3 major groups of antioxidants and consist of ⅔ flavonoids and ⅓ phenolic acids. According to Rawlings (60), Quercetin is one of the most popular flavonoids and found in apples, onions, broccoli and green tea. You can also put it in capsule form. We’ve had nutritionists recommend taking quercetin right when you feel like you are about to be sick to try to put the cold at ease. Isoflavones are another popular flavonoid that can be found in soy. Catechins are a flavanol found in tea, apples and berries.

Matcha contains antioxidant rich catechins

Some foods with carotenoids are sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, oranges and mangos. According to Fermented Foods for Health by Dierdre Rawlings, “polyphenols have been linked to cancer prevention, anti tumor growth, anti-inflammatory properties, cardiovascular support and protection against harmful pathogens.” It’s also true that good bacteria in the gut feeds off of polyphenols which the body gets wide access to by eating a lot of fruits and vegetables.

Allyl sulfides are found in the allium family which includes garlic, onions, leeks, chives and shallots. They are all antibacterial and antifungal in addition to supporting immunity in the body. It’s best to eat these raw for maximum benefit, however, we have garlic capsules at Nutritest + Wellness for clients who want the benefit but don’t want to have garlic breath all day. Carotenoids

Lastly, we will remind you that it is always best to consume antioxidants

by eating them in your diet through fruits and vegetables. It’s usually a good idea to incorporate some raw fruits and veggies in the mix for maximum nutrient absorption through your food. While It’s possible to get antioxidants in supplement form, the body thrives off of the additional nutrients, minerals and enzymes received from getting antioxidants through whole foods.


Rawlings, Deirdre. Fermented Foods for Health: Use the Power of Probiotic Foods to Improve Your Digestion, Strengthen Your Immunity, and Prevent Illness. Rockport Publishers, 2013.

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