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Posted by Nutrition Professionals Australia on 6 May 2014

What are antioxidants and where do they come from?

Antioxidants are substances found in certain foods that may help to protect the body against disorders such as arthritis, heart disease and some cancers. Antioxidants include vitamins such as Vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene and phytochemicals which are natural plant compounds.

Antioxidants are like an antidote to counter the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are harmful chemicals formed naturally in the body and after exposure to harmful chemicals such as smoking, exposure to the sun, air pollution and alcohol. Free radicals can attack healthy cells in the body, and are suspected to contribute to:

  • Deterioration of the eye lens, which contributes to blindness.
  • Inflammation of the joints (arthritis).  
  • Damage to nerve cells in the brain, which can contribute to conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Acceleration of the ageing process.
  • Heart disease, since free radicals encourage LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) to adhere to our artery walls.
  • Certain cancers, triggered by damage to the DNA of our body cells .


Antioxidants include:

  • Vitamins such as Vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene (which is converted to Vitamin A in the body).
  • Phytochemicals such as carotenoids (eg. Lycopene and lutein), flavonoids and isoflavones.
  • Zoochemicals in animal products.


Where are they found?

Antioxidants can be foound in various foods including:

  • Leeks, onion, garlic
  • Highly coloured fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil, avocado
  • Wholegrains
  • Seafood, lean meat
  • Milk
  • Fresh herbs
  • Tea- black, white, green

Should you take a supplement?

It seems that antioxidant supplements do not offer the same health benefits as antioxidants in foods. In fact, high doses of some antioxidants e.g. Vitamin E supplements may actually increase the risk of heart disease. So, as always, a wide variety of healthy foods is best.


NPA's top tips on including antioxidants in your day:

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and dairy products every day.
  • Eat highly coloured foods. Some nutritionists recommend that we ‘eat a rainbow’ every day.
  • Include plenty of nuts, seeds and legumes (lentils, dried beans, chick peas).
  • Steam, stir fry or microwave vegetables using a small amount of water to prevent antioxidant loss in the cooking process.
  • Drink black or green tea or cocoa made from raw cocoa powder.

What about chocolate? The Heart Foundation does not recommend consuming milk chocolate or dark chocolate for the prevention or treatment of heart disease.  Due to processing to remove the bitter taste, most chocolate is a poor source of antioxidants and contains saturated and trans fats.  They also do not recommend coffee or alcohol specifically for the prevention or treatment of heart disease.





Nutrition Professionals AustraliaAuthor:Nutrition Professionals Australia
About: NPA is a team of Accredited Practising Dietitians who provide specialist and expert nutrition advice to aged care and retirement homes across Australia. We specialise in assisting organisations to meet Accreditation and Best Practice standards.
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