Are Foods With Antioxidants in Them Really as Important as They’re Made Out to Be?

Have a question about science, health, fitness, or diet? Get cited, evidence-based insights with Consensus.

Try for free
Written by Consensus
6 min read

Are foods with antioxidants really as important as they’re made out to be?

Check out this answer from Consensus:

Antioxidants play a vital role in maintaining food quality and promoting health. They are abundant in a variety of foods, particularly plant-based sources, and have been linked to numerous health benefits. However, it is essential to consider the balance of ROS and antioxidants in the body and the potential limitations of antioxidant supplements. Overall, incorporating a diverse range of antioxidant-rich foods into the diet is a prudent approach to harnessing their health benefits.

Antioxidants have garnered significant attention in the food industry and health sectors due to their purported benefits in preventing chronic diseases and promoting overall health. This article delves into the importance of antioxidants in foods, examining their roles, sources, and the scientific evidence supporting their health benefits.

The Role of Antioxidants in Foods

Antioxidants are substances that delay, prevent, or remove oxidative damage to target molecules. They play a crucial role in controlling oxidation, which can lead to the development of rancidity in foods through a free radical chain mechanism . This process involves initiation, propagation, and termination steps, where radicals react with unsaturated fatty acids, leading to a chain reaction until a termination reaction occurs .

Sources of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices, and herbs. For instance, berries, fruits, nuts, chocolate, and vegetables are common foods with high antioxidant values . Culinary and medicinal herbs such as oregano, sage, peppermint, and cinnamon also contain very high concentrations of antioxidants. Additionally, eggs, although not traditionally considered antioxidant foods, contain compounds like vitamin E, carotenoids, and selenium, which contribute to their antioxidant properties.

Health Benefits of Antioxidants

The health benefits of antioxidants are well-documented, particularly in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. Antioxidants from dietary sources, such as fruits and vegetables, have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, cataracts, and asthma . They also enhance immune function and protect the gastrointestinal tract from oxidative damage, potentially delaying the development of stomach, colon, and rectal cancer.

Conflicting Evidence and Considerations

While there is substantial evidence supporting the health benefits of antioxidants, some studies suggest that the removal of too many reactive oxygen species (ROS) can upset cell signaling pathways and increase the risk of chronic disease. Additionally, the effectiveness of antioxidant supplements in protecting against oxidative stress-related diseases has been questioned, with some studies indicating that a combination of different redox-active compounds may be necessary for proper protection.

 

 

Are foods with antioxidants in them really as important as they’re made out to be?

Cornelie Nienaber-Rousseau has answered Likely

An expert from North-West University in Nutrition

Our bodies use oxygen in various metabolic reactions. However, oxygen can react to form trouble making molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals are also generated during environmental exposure to ultraviolet radiation, air pollution and smoking. Antioxidants are substances that significantly decrease the adverse effects of free radicals (unstable molecules with one or more unpaired electrons) on normal physiological functions by donating an electron or two to neutralize them (Whitney & Rolfes, 2020). If left unchecked free radicals can oxidize macromolecules (DNA, proteins and lipids) in the body that have been linked to the onset of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases (Aspulund, 2002; Barber et al., 1994).

Because antioxidants are also needed for normal physiological functioning, foods containing them are important to include in our diets. Antioxidant nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene (vitamin A) and selenium. Phytochemicals which are nonnutrient compounds found in plants are also antioxidants (Guan et al., 2021). Together the nutrients and nonnutrients with antioxidant activity “limit free-radical formation, stimulate antioxidant enzyme activity, repair oxidative damage, stimulate enzyme activity for repairs and support a healthy immune system” (Whitney & Rolfes, 2020). Plant-derived bioactive antioxidants seem to lower cancer and heart disease in people whose diets include abundant vegetables and fruits (Aspulund, 2002).

Cancer patients often take antioxidant nutritional supplements during cancer treatment to alleviate treatment toxicities, improve long-term outcomes and replenish antioxidant status that declines during cancer treatment (Ladas et al., 2004). However, summaries of the scientific studies on antioxidant supplements (beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E, and selenium) for prevention found no evidence that they prevent cancers (Bjelakovic et al., 2004) or cardiovascular diseases (Aspulund, 2002). In fact antioxidant supplements (beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E) seem to increase overall mortality (Bjelakovic et al., 2004; Bejelakovic et al., 2007). Smokers should not use beta-carotene supplements because high doses have been associated with increased lung cancer prevalence and mortality (Bejelakovic et al., 2007; Omenn et al., 1996). Therefore, antioxidants should preferably come from food and not be supplemented. Sources of antioxidants are vegetables (kale, spinach and brussels sprouts), fruit (pomegranates, berries and citrus), grains (millet and oats), legumes (pinto beans and soybeans), walnuts and tea. Microgreens–immature plants, often used in garnishes–are very good sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals .Enjoy a variety of fruits, vegetables including microgreens, grains legumes and nuts to get the antioxidant and other benefits they offer. Even though, chocolate and wine also contain antioxidants/phytochemicals, consuming them to increase antioxidant status are not recommended.

“What you find at the end of your fork is more powerful than anything you’ll find at the bottom of a pill bottle” – Mary Buchan

For more information on antioxidants also refer to my answer on the question Can you have too many antioxidants?

 

Are foods with antioxidants in them really as important as they’re made out to be?

Apoorva Singh has answered Near Certain

An expert from Indian Institute of Technology in Nanotechnology, Medicine, Bioinformatics

Excess of anything is detrimental so the same stands for antioxidants also.Though the deficiency of antioxidants play major role in several diseases, consuming a lot is not advisable. Moreover, it totally depends on the type of antioxidant and the form in which a person is taking it.

 

Are foods with antioxidants in them really as important as they’re made out to be?

Rafael Franco has answered Extremely Unlikely

An expert from Universitat de Barcelona in Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Antioxidants, Nutrition, Pharmacology, Asthma, Cell Biology, Biochemistry

Foods are necessary. Chocolate is good to eat and coffee is good to drink.

Are there antioxidants in coffee or chocolate? It is a technical question and here is not the place to enter into moleular chemical details. But if interested we covered the topic of antioxidants in foods in this publication:

Antioxidant Defense Mechanisms in Erythrocytes and in the Central Nervous System.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30781629

It is Open access (you may download the paper for free)

What it is generally understood as antioxidants are per se irrelevant in what concerns well being or health. Actually antioxidants are used in foods to prevent rotting. You may check it reading the label of processed food!.

Something different is to boost our own antioxidant mechanisms but this is not achieved by “eating” antioxidants. Again if interested in more details you may read them in the above-indicated publication.

Have a question about science, health, fitness, or diet? Get cited, evidence-based insights with Consensus.

Try for free