What are antioxidants & why do we need them?

Why do we need antioxidants? Generally, most of us know they are good for us, but a lot of us are not sure why – why do we need them and what do they do, and what is an antioxidant. Our resident expert Alice Fotheringham gives us the lo-down.

Plants contain antioxidants, so they are abundant in nature. Plants contain these powerful tools to protect themselves, and we use them for this reason also.

Put simply, an antioxidant is something that reverses or stops ‘oxidation’.

Oxidation is the gain of oxygen by a substance. Think about how a freshly cut apple starts to turn brown, or a nail becomes rusty. This is oxidation. And in most cases, like the apple and nail, oxidation can cause damage.

This action of oxidation creates free radicals, molecules that have been freed from their usual home, that go on to cause damage in our bodies. Free radicals are unstable and can negatively affect the health of our cells and DNA expression.

Just like in nature, Antioxidants are our natural protectors.

Free radicals naturally occur in the body, we can also come from our environment. From chemicals and pesticides, cleaning and beauty products to burnt and fried food.  

Antioxidants are therefore very important for our health, helping meaning general health and wellbeing.

Key nutrients high in antioxidant activity:

Vitamin C: supports our immune function and thought to reduce tiredness and fatigue. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables contain lots of vitamin C, especially greens such as broccoli.

Vitamin D: works in many functions, particularly immune. Hard to find in food, we get this from sunlight and in the UK pregnant mothers and breastfed children are recommended to take supplements.

Zinc: another key antioxidant in immune health, zinc is found in leafy greens, see food and certain nuts and seeds

Key things to do to support you and your baby

  • Eat a varied balance of different coloured fruit and vegetables that contain lots of mineral and vitamins
  • Avoid eating too much fried or BBQ’s food as well as very processed foods. Whole foods contain more antioxidants.
  • Look after your gut & stay hydrated
  • Reduce stress, which is thought to create free radicals.