Antioxidants: the food compounds of choice
What if a bowl of berries could help you slow down the aging process in your body? Discover the benefits of antioxidants…
Antioxidants to fight against oxidative stress
What is oxidative stress?
From the oxygen we breathe in the air, the body produces compounds called “reactive oxygen species ” (ROS). This process, called oxidative stress, is quite normal, but these compounds must remain in controlled quantities, as they damage the body’s cells and contribute to accelerated aging of the body’s tissues. However, it is still necessary to have a certain number of ROSs, as they provide protection against viruses and microbes.
Vitamins and minerals as a solution to oxidative stress
There are two main options to combat this mechanism. The first is via enzymes, the human body’s little soldiers, which will associate with ROSs to make them non-toxic. To do this, the enzymes will need the help of certain minerals such as copper, manganese, selenium, or zinc.
The second mechanism is called “antioxidants”. These are compounds that can bind to ROSs and neutralize their impact. Among these antioxidants, there are vitamins C and E which are known for their antioxidant properties.
What is the role of food in the intake of antioxidants?
Antioxidants are grouped into large groups of molecules such as carotenoids (yellow or red-orange foods), polyphenols (red to purple foods), vitamins, and certain minerals.
In order to identify the foods richest in antioxidants, scientists have developed different tools to determine the antioxidant power of foods. The table below shows which foods are interesting according to the ORAC classification (free radical absorption capacity).
Amount per daily serving
ORAC index per serving
> 10 000
ORAC index between 5 000 – 10 000
Cocoa (powder, unsweetened)
Apple (Granny Smith)
ORAC index between 1000 – 5000
Yellow bell pepper raw
Currently, there is no official recommendation for a daily value of antioxidants to consume. Ideally, the daily meals should allow having a global ORAC index between 3000 and 5000. Thus, it is essential to adopt a diet as varied and balanced as possible in order to diversify the sources of antioxidants and to guarantee sufficient intake for the body.As antioxidant compounds are mainly present in fruits and vegetables, they must have a place of choice in the elaboration of your daily menus at the rate of 5 daily portions. For fruits, you should choose yellow to red-orange fruits.
What are the risks of an inadequate diet?
When the diet does not provide enough antioxidants, the oxidative balance of the body will be unbalanced in favor of a pro-oxidative state that is harmful to health. Indeed, free radicals will contribute to the development of certain diseases such as vision disorders. They are also involved in certain degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s and certain cancers.
Conversely, a diet rich in antioxidants will provide effective protection against free radicals and the process of oxidative stress. The oxidative balance of the body will be balanced, and this will delay the cellular aging of the body.
Which people have an increased need for antioxidants?
Certain factors external to the body contribute to a considerable increase in the oxidative stress process and the production of free radicals. Thus, pollution, tobacco, or UV rays in too large quantities promote this production of ROS.
In addition to these external factors being limited or banned from one’s lifestyle, some people present a greater risk of imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body.
As previously explained, the simple fact of breathing oxygen produces free radicals in the body. Thus, athletes, after an intense effort, have a production of free radicals more important. For muscle and nerve recovery to take place in good conditions, athletes must ensure that they include sufficient foods with antioxidant properties in their daily diet.
Similarly, women entering the menopausal period are at increased risk of a pro-oxidative state of their bodies. Indeed, menopause manifests itself by brutal hormonal changes with a drop in estrogen levels. Estrogen is a hormone, but it seems to act as an antioxidant. In addition, advancing age would also explain a greater production of free radicals and a lower antioxidant stock.
Through the simple act of breathing, the body produces compounds called “free radicals”. These are important to protect against certain infections, but in excess, they become toxic. The main solution is to fill up on antioxidants, compounds found in many foods. This is even more essential for sportswomen or menopausal women who have a higher production of free radicals.
Key take-home messages
– The body naturally produces free radicals
– Free radicals are toxic when present in excess
– Antioxidants are an effective countermeasure
– Antioxidants are present in many fruits and vegetables
– Athletes and postmenopausal women have higher needs
- Abshirini et al., Dietary total antioxidant capacity is inversely related to menopausal symptoms: a cross-sectional study among Iranian post-menopausal women, 2018
- Berthou, Stress oxydatif : connaissez-vous les antioxydants, 2016
- Carlsen et al., The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide, 2010
- Collectif Lanutrition, L’indice ORAC mesure le pouvoir antioxydant des aliments, 2011
- Crinnionet al., Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer,2010
- Graines de savoir, Les antioxydants, 2021