Antioxidants are not nutrients but enhance or support nutrients. Anti means against, oxidant means oxidation.

By Parkash Meghwar, M.Phil.

They are associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Functional foods as a potential treatment for both diseases through the inhibition of acetyl cholinesterase. Also, these are important for maintaining physiological functions of the liver, kidney, and digestive system, and preventing CVD and cancer.

Antioxidants are playing a role as food preservatives and act against oxidative deterioration in the storage and processing of foods due to high stability and low volatility. Also, help to maintain the level of nutrients, the texture, color, taste, freshness, functionality, aroma, and appeal to the consumer. Food antioxidants are working as scavengers of free radicals (FRs) that can cause cellular and genetic changes due to their high reactive state which acts to produce damage to the mm range.

The incorporation of natural antioxidants can modify their structure, improving functionality, and applicability in foods. A wide range of antioxidants (such as essential oils and plant extracts, as well as pure compounds like ascorbic acid and alpha-tocopherols) and their application improve bioactive properties. Adding antioxidants helps to preserve/enhance the sensory properties of foods and add value to the food products by increasing their shelf life.

Natural antioxidants are used to replace synthetic antioxidants such as butylated hydroxy anisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Tocopherol is a fat-soluble natural antioxidant. Other natural antioxidants are tocotrienols, ascorbic acid, citric acid, carotenoids, and enzymatic antioxidants. Primarily, antioxidants are FR accepters.

Sources of natural antioxidants are,

Carotenoids are present in dark leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yams, apricots, citrus fruits, papaya, etc. The rich source of Catechins is green tea, berries, certain oilseeds, etc. whereas, oilseeds, lettuce, berries, eggplant, peppers, citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, onion, black tea, etc., are a reliable source of flavonoids. Tomatoes, papaya, watermelon, guava, etc., are rich sources of lycopene. Phenolic acids can be found in oilseeds, certain oils, cereal grains, etc. Vitamin C also called Ascorbic Acid is sufficient in fruits, vegetables, berries, citrus fruits, green peppers, potatoes, etc. Moreover, vitamin E also known as Tocopherol is found in oilseeds, palm oil, nuts, eggs, dairy products, whole grains, vegetables, cereals, margarine, etc.

Chili peppers can protect the body against FR damage, giving you natural resistance to cancer and slowing down the aging process. Fresh chili peppers, red and green, are a rich source of vitamin C, which is a potent water-soluble antioxidant. 

The vitamin C in green chilies strengthens your natural immunity to diseases and is required for collagen synthesis inside the human body. Collagen is one of the main structural proteins required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones.

Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps protect from scurvy, develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity), and remove harmful, pro-inflammatory FRs from the body. They are also high in other antioxidants such as vitamin-A, and flavonoids like ß-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidant substances in capsicum help protect the body from injurious effects of FRs generated during stress and disease conditions.

It is believed that the long-life span of people in ancient times was due to the sufficient intake of antioxidants that reduce FRs in the body. FR can damage the tissues and organs to decrease the lifespan.

Many health science researchers have found that FRs cause oxidation, which is a central process of aging, like rusting of iron. Thus, the formation of FRs caused by oxidation is one of the main causes of aging.

According to Harvard health publishing, some minerals copper, zinc, and selenium — serve as antioxidants, in addition to other vital roles. News articles, advertisements, and food labels often tout antioxidant benefits such as slowing aging, fending off heart disease, improving flagging vision, and curbing cancer. Indeed, too many of these antioxidant supplements will not help you and may even harm you. It is better to supply your antioxidants with a well-rounded diet.

By Parkash Meghwar

Food Technologist & Young Researcher M.Phil Scholar at Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Karachi, Pakistan.