What are antioxidants good for?
A month before I opened my first plant-based restaurant in Virginia Beach, we gathered with a group of friends and acquaintances to taste-test and name all the items planned for the menu.
Our chef served a sample of each menu item while I wrote the ingredients on the whiteboard.
We gave everyone post-it notes to jot down ideas for product names. After tasting each item, they handed their notes to me. I stuck them on the whiteboard, and we voted on our favorites.
One of the items we sampled that day was an acai bowl. It included a blend of oat milk, acai, blueberries, and banana topped with strawberries, blueberries, banana, granola, and chia seeds.
One post-it note suggestion for the name of this bowl read simply, “ANTIOXIDANT.”
That was in April 2011. The term “antioxidant” was still trendy in health food stores. But I doubt many people (myself included) really understood what antioxidants were.
So I asked the nutritionist in our group, “What are antioxidants good for?”
She answered with several impressive benefits that I’ve since forgotten. But I’m almost sure she would have mentioned:
– heart disease
– eye disease
– lung disease
– memory loss
– early death
But would such an answer to the question “What are antioxidants good for?” have been more hype than reality?
Isn’t it funny how, when a nutritional science finding leaks to the public, we get excited about the new discovery even when we’re clueless about its true significance?
Of the more than 20 people in the room that day, everyone seemed to have heard of antioxidants. They even voted to name our menu item after the molecules.
However, the reality was that only the nutritionist genuinely knew what they are or how they work.
So, let’s review the mechanism that dictates how antioxidants work to help us understand what are antioxidants good for.
How Antioxidants Work
The outer shell of a molecule contains electrons. When things are going as nature intended, the electrons occur in pairs. But what happens when stress fractures the bond holding a pair of electrons together?
The molecule with a missing electron becomes obsessed with finding a replacement!
We call molecules in this unnatural state “free radicals.” When they go on rampages of stealing electrons from other molecules, bodily havoc ensues.
In this 2019 study, researchers reviewed a large body of evidence on the role of free radicals and antioxidants. They concluded that “Free radicals are blameable for crafting dangerous complications in the human body, which leads to death sometimes.”
Fortunately, our bodies have methods of stopping these free-radical chain reactions, like antioxidants.
Because antioxidant molecules have “replacement” electrons ready to supply to the free radicals. As long as our bodies have a reserve of antioxidants, our free radicals will repair their ruptured electron pairs, and all will be well!
But what if we have an imbalance?
If we don’t have enough antioxidants to go around, oxidative stress continues. Disease and even early death follow.
What Are Antioxidants Good For? A Remarkable Job
The fundamental answer to the question, “What are antioxidants good for?” is, “They’re good for donating an electron to a molecule that’s missing one.”
Balancing antioxidants and free radicals will stop oxidative stress in its tracks. It will also halt – or slow the rate of – a variety of diseases, including:
– atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels)
– high blood pressure
– Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases
When I was at my restaurant the other day, I ordered the Antioxidant Superberry Bowl. It was just as good as when I first tasted it nine years ago, and in some ways, it was even better.
Especially now that I know what antioxidants are good for!