Antioxidant 101

Oxygen is undeniably necessary for all life.

It’s a no brainer.

Unfortunately, it is also a highly reactive element and somewhat of a double edged sword!  

Approximately 5% of metabolised Oxygen will be reduced in to Oderived free radicals (AKA Reductive Oxygen Species or ROS) such as Hydroxyl and Nitric Oxides, Hydrogen Peroxides, or Super Peroxide (1).

These free radicals are by nature, very unstable and so begin borrowing electrons from neighbouring, positively charged, otherwise stable molecules to re-gain stability (a neutral valency) and in so doing, de-stabilise these molecules. This process continues until there is cellular destabilisation and eventual damage referred to as oxidative stress.  

So why is this important?

Because oxidative stress in the long term can lead to disease, damaged proteins and DNA and even cellular mutations (i.e. cancers)!

So what can we do to prevent oxidative stress in the body you ask?

This is where anti-oxidants come in to the picture!

Antioxidants are compounds and molecules that have a stabilising effect on these free radicals, halting the chain of electron stealing, and preventing cellular disruption and damage (2).

The balance between the amounts of oxidative stress vs the amount of antioxidant activity present to halt this stress will largely dictate your longevity of cellular life and eventually, your own!

Dietary Sources of Antioxidants:

Antioxidants can come in several forms and stimulate several pathways. From dietary sources such as polyphenol bearing ‘super foods’, to much those that stimulate more potent pathways such as NRF-2 activation (see my next article, Advanced Antioxidants INSERT LINK WHEN ARTICLE IS SUBMITTED), there is more than one way to slow oxidative stress on the body.

So what are some common dietary sources you can start adding into your meal prep?

Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts and Seeds

Medicinal Herbs, Culinary Herbs and Spices








Goji berries

White Pepper


Black beans



Purple Sweet Potato



Pumpkin seeds


Red grapes







Take Home

An antioxidant is a molecule stable enough to donate an electron to a nearby Reactive Oxidative Species (ROS) and thus prevent further destabilisation and oxidative stress (1).

These antioxidant bearing foods tend to have a one to one ratio of electron donation and thus can typically stabilise equal parts of the ROS to the amount of these foods present in your diet (1-3).  

So to summarise with a practical message you can utilise in day to day life, the balance of oxidative stress and the quantity of anti oxidant bearing fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds ,spices and herbs in your diet will dictate how much rampant oxidative stress is left unchecked in your body in the long term.

By making a conscious effort to add the variety of foods in the table above to your daily nutrition plan, you will slowly shift the tide between free radicals and anti oxidant activity in the body, making you feel the world better in the process!


1)    Mondal, S.K., Chakrabarthy, G., Gupta, M and Mazumder, U.K, (2006) “In vitro antioxidant activity of Diospyros malabarica kostel bark”., Indian journal of experimental biology., 44,39-44.
2)    Sumathi S, Padma PR, Gathampari S, Vidhya S. FREE RADICAL SCAVENGING ACTIVITY OF DIFFERENT PARTS OF WITHANIA SOMNIFERA. Ancient Science of Life. 2007;26(3):30-34.
3) Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, Chandra N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2010;4(8):118-126. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70902.
4) Lee SE, Hwang HJ, Ha JS et al. Screening of medicinal plant extracts for antioxidant activity. Life Sci 73: 167-179, 2003
5) Prior RL. Fruit and vegetables in the prevention of cellular oxidative damage. Am J Clin Nutr 78: 570S-578S, 2003.
6) Cai Y, Luo Q, Sun M et al. Antioxidant activity and phenolic compounds of 112 traditional Chinese medicinal plants associated with anticancer. Life Sci. 74: 2157-2184, 2004.
7) Kaur C, Kapoor HC. Anti-oxidant activity and total phenolic content of some Asian vegetables. Int J Food Sci Technol. 37: 153-161, 2002.