Nutrition Facts About Antioxidants

 

What exactly is an antioxidant and what does it do? This guide to nutrition facts has the details.

 

 

Of all the nutrition facts cited regarding the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, one of the most important is the increased consumption of antioxidants. Antioxidants have been touted as a means to fight aging, reduce the risk of heart disease, and even prevent cancer. Nutrition studies have also shown that antioxidants are more effective when consumed naturally instead of through supplements–one more reason why fresh vegetables are essential for a long and healthy life.

 

What are antioxidants?

 

Antioxidant is a nutrition term that refers to substances that protect your body's cells from damage caused by unstable molecules. These unstable molecules are known as free radicals, and are created when your body takes electrons from other molecules in order to metabolize oxygen. It's a natural process, but excessive amounts of free radicals in your body due to age and environmental factors cause deterioration that can eventually lead to disease.

 

Dietary nutrition is one of the best ways to combat this process. Think of an antioxidant as a nutrition-conscious Pac-Man, roaming through your body and gobbling up free radicals. Fruits and vegetables are natural nutrition sources for numerous antioxidants. Common antioxidants include lycopene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and lutein.

 

Antioxidants and vegetable nutrition

 

Antioxidants can be acquired from many sources, including seafood, meat, and even chocolate, but vegetables are one of the healthiest nutrition sources for antioxidants. A nutrition term commonly used to describe the antioxidant strength of a vegetable is oxygen radical absorbance capacity, or ORAC.

 

ORAC units in vegetables are measured per gram. A vegetable nutrition top ten would include the following, listed in order of ORAC units per 100 grams:

 

Kale 1770
Spinach 1260
Brussels sprouts 980
Alfalfa sprouts 930
Broccodt 890
Beets 840
Red bell peppers 710
Onions 450
Corn 400
Eggplant 390

 

Antioxidant sources in vegetables

 

A general nutrition rule is that the darker the color of a vegetable (dark orange, dark green, etc.), the better the antioxidant source it is. The following are some of the antioxidants available through vegetable nutrition:

 

Allium sulphur compounds
Allium sulphur compounds are found particularly in garlic, but also in leeks and onions. According to the Garlic & Health Project, sulphur compounds in garlic can prevent genotoxicity of carcinogens in a human cell line (genotoxic means a substance damaging to DNA).
Beta-carotene
The nutritional benefits of beta-carotene as an antioxidant are less defined compared with other antioxidant sources. However, as a precursor to vitamin A, beta-carotene promotes healthy eyesight and skin. Vegetable nutrition sources for beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and kale.
Indoles
Indoles are phytochemicals (phyto means plant, so chemicals found in plants) that are thought to reduce cancer risk. Cruciferous vegetables, or vegetables found in the Cruciferae family (also known as the Brassicaceae family) are excellent nutrition sources for indoles. Such vegetables include kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Lutein
Lutein is a carotenoid that benefits vision and the immune system. Vegetable nutrition sources for lutein include corn and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.
Lycopene
Lycopene is one antioxidant that Americans get plenty of. That's because lycopene is found naturally in tomatoes, and is actually more concentrated when tomatoes have been processed into products such as ketchup. Lycopene is a strong antioxidant notable for fighting skin aging.

 

--Joshua Avram

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