Antioxidants: what are they?

by | Sep 3, 2020 | Micronutrients, Nutrition, NUTRITIONAL GUIDE | 0 comments

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Vitamins A, C, E, tannins, flavonoids are antioxidants. Antioxidants are essential to our health. They protect our body from free radicals (aggressive particles) and in this way reduce the risk of many diseases.

What’s a free radical?

Before we understand what an antioxidant is, we need to know the molecules they are fighting against: oxidants. These are toxic molecules, also known as free radicals.

Foodvisor sourire vieillissement de la peauThat name is due to the fact that they’re missing an electron. Thus, in order to stabilize themselves, they keep stealing an electron from neighbouring cells, which in turn turn turn into free radicals. Oxidants also attack our DNA. It is therefore because of these molecules that the body oxidizes and the aging process accelerates.

Free radicals are naturally present in nature, as they are in the body. They are even indispensable to our organism because they participate in the protection of the body against bacteria and viruses, fight against the destruction of damaged cells and also in the fluidisation of the blood. Sometimes, the body produces them to protect itself from the toxicity of alcohol or fats. All this with a reasonable level of oxidants.

History is spoiled when this level of oxidants increases in the body. This may be because the body produces abnormally more of them or because we artificially introduce excessive amounts of free radicals into our bodies.

What is an antioxidant?

Antioxidants are molecules that help protect the body against free radicals. Unlike oxidants, antioxidants are so-called “reducing” compounds. They are capable of reacting with an oxidant and neutralizing it by yielding an electron to it. In this way, the free radical becomes stable again.

Like free radicals, there are two sources of antioxidants:

  • an endogenous source, where the antioxidants are produced by our cells.
  • an exogenous source, where antioxidants come from our environment.

Foodvisor myrtilles linAlthough different, these sources work together and form the antioxidant defense system. It therefore protects the body against free radicals and oxidation

External antioxidants include vitamins, trace elements and micro-nutrients. They are present in our diet.

To measure the antioxidant power of a food, the ORAC index is used. It is the acronym for “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity”, i.e. the capacity to absorb oxygen-derived radicals. This ORAC index is therefore used to determine the capacity of a food to be an antioxidant. The principle is simple: the higher the index, the higher the antioxidant capacity of the food.

What are the benefits of antioxidants?

As we have seen, when the amount of free radicals in the body is greater than the amount of antioxidants, the body is said to be exposed to oxidative stress.

This oxidative stress causes DNA alterations. In the long term, it contributes to premature skin aging, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, macular degeneration and cataracts.

Antioxidants protect the body by neutralizing excess free radicals in the body to combat this oxidative stress.

Factors increasing the production of free radicals

Today we know that many factors increase the production of free radicals:

  1. Pollution
  2. A state of chronic stress or anxiety
  3. Cigarette smoke 
  4. Prolonged exposure to the sun 
  5. Alcohol consumption

What are the sources of antioxidants?

As we have seen, the body is able to produce its own antioxidants to fight free radicals. Hence the importance of having a balanced and varied diet to provide our body with everything it needs.

Our bodies then draw antioxidants from our food. They are found in many foods, but the main source remains fruits and vegetables.

The main antioxidant nutrients are:

  • vitamins A, C, E;
  • Trace elements: zinc, iode, sélénium ;
  • other substances such as: polyphenols, lycopene, flavonoids, beta-carotene, lutein …

Vitamin C:

  • berries
  • citrus fruits (lemons, grapefruits, oranges)
  • kiwis
  • peppers
  • melons, broccoli, green leafy vegetables

Vitamin E:

  • vegetable oils
  • oleaginous fruits (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts)
  • cereals

Carotenoids (provitamin A):

Foodvisor carottes colorées – beta-carotene: carrots, parsley, apricots, peppers, oranges, cabbage, spinach…

– lutein: spinach, green cabbage, red peppers, broccoli, lettuce, watercress, egg yolks…

– lycopenes: tomatoes, melons, watermelons…


– flavonoids: tea, red wine, vegetables, fruits…

– tannins: tea, grapes, wine, cocoa, coffee…

– anthocyanins: blueberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, radishes, aubergines…

Foodvisor thé fleurs

Zinc :

– oysters, crab

– wheat germ or wheat bran

– beef

– sesame or poppy seeds

– edible yeast

– shiitake mushrooms

– cocoa powder


  • algae
  • table salt
  • fish and seafood
  • egg yolk
  • savoury cheeses


  • fish and crustaceans
  • offal
  • alfalfa
  • egg yolk

In conclusion, if you want to be healthy and stay healthy, don’t hesitate to include fruits and vegetables in your diet to fill up on antioxidants! Apart from pathological conditions of course, the best source of antioxidants remains a varied, balanced, seasonal and, if possible, organic diet! By eating this way, with at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, you can be sure to have a good supply of antioxidants.

Article written by Romane, dietician at Foodvisor.


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