We talk a lot about nutrition, we boast their benefits. But what exactly are antioxidants? Where are they found? What is their role? Let’s review the details of these ageing fighters.
Antioxidants are molecules found in foods such as fruits and vegetables, coffee, green tea, and red wine, for example. They are found in 3 kinds of nutrient families: vitamins, carotenoids and polyphenols.
1. Vitamins as antioxidants
Two fat-soluble vitamins (soluble in fat) A, and E, and a water-soluble vitamin, C.
Vitamin A (or retinol)
Vitamin A is made by the body from beta-carotene that is brought by the consumption of vegetables, fruits, or micro-algae. It can also be brought directly by food by animal products (butter, liver, cheese, etc.).
It is ideal to have 2 sources of vitamin A. Vegetarians do not lack it, since they find it in vegetables and in dairy products.
Vitamin E (tocopherols)
Vitamin E is provided by food, in vegetable oils such as wheat germ oil, argan, sunflower or rapeseed, but also in hazelnuts and dried almonds. It is also present in some fruits and vegetables such as avocado, asparagus, tomato and cabbage, blackberry and blackcurrant.
Tocotrienol is an antioxidant that helps maintain good arterial health, is an anti-inflammatory and can reduce cholesterol. Tocotrienols are similar to vitamin E.
In addition, they can reduce blood clots, tumor formation, DNA and cellular damage. They also reduce breast and prostate cancer cells. Finally, tocotrienols lower cholesterol levels.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
The human body does not make it, unlike other animals. It is not stored and the excesses are evacuated by the urine. It must, therefore, be consumed daily.
Vitamin C is mainly found in vegetables – potatoes, turnip, green cabbage, pepper, fennel, spinach – and fruits, with berries (acerola, goji berry, rosehip, blackcurrant) and guava first, kiwi, lemon, orange or camu-camu.
2. Antioxidant carotenoids
Carotenoids are pigments responsible for the color of fruits and vegetables: yellow, red, green, orange. The best known carotenoid is certainly beta carotenoids found in carrots. But there is also lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin for the most common.
Carotenoids are found in the following food:
- beta-carotene: carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, green cabbage, peaches, apricots;
- alpha-carotene: carrots, pumpkins, red peppers;
- cryptoxanthin: pumpkin, peppers, orange fruit;
- lycopene: especially cooked tomatoes or in tomato concentrate;
- lutein and zeaxanthin: green leafy vegetables (green cabbage, spinach, peas, avocado, etc.)
Overall, fruits and vegetables: orange, lemon, kiwi, apricot, pineapple, strawberries, cherries, avocado… contain carotenoids.
3. Antioxidant polyphenols
Several thousand different molecules belong to this family of polyphenols. They are not all antioxidants. Those that are, have complicated names: quercetin, genistein, catechins, and so on.
All plants contain it, as well as drinks such as green tea (catechins), coffee (caffeine) and red wine (tannins).
Are selenium, zinc, copper antioxidants? Even if they are assimilated with other antioxidants, they are not. But they participate in the antioxidant action of our body that could not be performed without them. They are essential for antioxidants.