What Are Antioxidants?

What Are Antioxidants?

Why Does Everyone Promote Antioxidants?

“Full of antioxidants” appears almost everywhere these days. Wine, chocolate, vegetables and fruits all boast their antioxidant levels. But what are antioxidants? How do they help our bodies? What is all the hype really about?

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, antioxidant does not refer to an object but a chemical state. Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals and proteins found in certain foods that have a specific atomic form to help combat free radicals (another common term).

Antioxidants Fight The Damage of Free Radicals

What are free radicals? Free radicals are unstable molecules naturally formed during digestion. More often, the media and health blogs talk about the free radicals created from environmental factors –- smoke, pollution, sunlight, etc.

Free radicals have the potential to damage cells in our bodies. They cause this damage by stealing an electron (a component of an atom), leaving the cell unbalanced. In stealing an electron, a new free radical is formed that needs to take another electron, causing a chain reaction (i.e., each atom, now short an electron, steals an electron from another atom).

This cellular damage is believed to possibly lead to some chronic diseases, although lab tests do not form a strong conclusion. We can see the effects of free radical damage, also known as oxidation, all around us. Apples brown and iron rusts due to free radicals.

Antioxidants help prevent and fight the free radical damage by “donating” an electron. Through this chemical process of exchanging electrons, antioxidants prevent the theft of a needed part of our bodies’ cells.

The Color of Antioxidants

In 2012, the USDA measured the oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) of different foods. This test examines antioxidant abilities. Among berries, the elderberry measured as one of the highest in antioxidant power.

Two classes of antioxidants – flavonols and anthocyanidins – refer to the color of a plant. It is, in part, the chemical structure of a plant’s coloring that gives it antioxidant abilities. Elderberries, for example, contain high levels of anthocyanidins that make the berry its dark purple color in addition to being an antioxidant. Flavonols, related to the Latin word for yellow flavus, connects to the chemical structure that makes plants yellow and orange. For those more scientifically minded, refer to this USDA document on the flavonol and anthocyanidin levels of different foods.

All Antioxidants Are Not Equal

The antioxidants within food are not all the same. Some antioxidants prevent destruction, while others interrupt the effect of free radicals. Vitamin C, for example, breaks the chain reaction of free radical damage.  You can learn more about how antioxidants work and the signs of oxidative stress in this great article from Maine News Online.

Studies have shown that antioxidant supplements do not have the same beneficial effects as a diet full of fruits and vegetables. In fact, there are concerns that the amount of antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, ingested through a daily supplement may be unsafe. Therefore, it is important to consume a variety of foods with antioxidant qualities rather than take a supplement to get the beneficial effect.

Consuming Elderberries

There are some foods and herbs that are best consumed as a supplement for a variety of reasons. The elderberry is one of these foods.

The elderberry's tiny seed contains a cyanide-like chemical called cyogenic glycoside. This makes it unsafe to eat elderberries that have not been either deseeded (a painstaking process) or cooked. Also, elderberries have diuretic and laxative properties that, when eaten raw and in large quantities, can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Norm’s Farms offers prepared elderberry products and supplements so the berry’s antioxidant qualities can be consumed and enjoyed. Our extract, produced through an all-natural water bath process, has no added ingredients except for a small amount of malic acid (made from apples!) so that we can bottle it. The purity of the Norm’s Farms extract makes it the closest one can get to raw elderberries and their antioxidant benefits -- and because we have removed the seeds for you, it's even better than ever (don’t consume too much or your tummy may rumble).

Stresses of Modern Life

Even though medical and scientific research has not found conclusive data about antioxidants, numerous studies agree that a diet of antioxidant fruits and vegetables can be beneficial. Free radicals and antioxidants are a natural part of our bodies’ daily chemical process. 

Given the increased stress we all experience due to modern life, why not give your body a little help? Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Add elderberries! As the berry with the second highest antioxidant capabilities, this delicious fruit is a great place to start having a balanced diet full of free radical fighting antioxidants.  Check out this list of other foods loaded with antioxidants from Web MD.

To Learn More, Read:

National Library of Medicine's "Antioxidants"
Harvard School of Public Health "Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype"

Norm’s Farms offers prepared elderberry products with Antioxidants which taste great!
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