Antioxidants are powerful compounds found in nearly all food you eat, regardless of what some juice ads would have you believe. Antioxidants do exist in colorful fruits, but they can also be found in vegetables, nuts, grains, milk products, teas, legumes, spices, and herbs. Even certain meats, poultry, and fish contain antioxidants. No matter how healthy—or unhealthy—your diet is, you’re consuming antioxidants.
So what do they do for you? Antioxidants can help your body defend itself against stress and decay. Certain antioxidants will make you look better from the inside out by protecting your eyes and skin from the damaging effects of sunlight. These potent compounds also decrease excess inflammation and soreness after a hard workout.
As you may have heard, antioxidants may help support overall health and exercise recovery
But here’s what you might not know: Antioxidants are incredibly diverse in how they’re structured and what they do. Even grouping them all under a single name is problematic. It’s akin to grouping running shoes and cars under the same name just because they both help you move around.
Though we know they’re vital to our health, science has barely scratched the surface on antioxidants. There are thousands of different types found in foods, yet only a tiny fraction of them have been identified. In many cases, scientists don’t fully understand how the ones that have been discovered act in the human body. To make matters even more complicated, a single fruit or vegetable may contain over a hundred compounds, making it difficult to figure out what each one does.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
If you’re tempted to take a shortcut to good health by popping high-dose antioxidant supplements instead of eating your fruits and veggies, consider this: Overloading on antioxidants could do as much harm as good.
antioxidants Several studies have found that excessive doses of antioxidants don’t prevent disease. In some cases they actually increased disease risk. For instance, two out of four long-term studies found high-dose beta-carotene supplements (20-30 mg per day) taken daily for several years increased lung cancer risk by 24 percent in smokers. How does 20-30 mg/day stack up? If you eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, you consume about 6-8 mg of beta-carotene. Vitamin E and selenium, two other crucial nutrients with antioxidant properties, have also been connected to increased cancer risk when taken at high doses.
But aside from any particular risks to certain populations, popping antioxidant pills like candy under the assumption that your body needs them in order to recover from exercise is simply mistaken. Remember free radicals, those compounds that damage your cells and are combatted by antioxidants? Well, it turns out that we actually need some free radicals in order for our muscles to produce force, and to build and repair muscle. Muscle cells come with their own regulatory network—an antioxidant defense system that lets free radicals do their job but reduces the likelihood that they will inflict lasting damage on your muscle.
Want to help your body recover from stress? Start simple: Eat better and sleep longer. Give your aching muscles what they want most!
LET’S HEAR IT FOR FOOD
Does the remaining mystery surrounding antioxidants mean we’re flying blind? Not quite. Two principles should guide your antioxidant intake:
First, ignore any boast that claims a food or supplement “contains more antioxidants than (fill in the blank).” Quantitative measurements of antioxidants are completely useless unless you’re in a research lab. The total amount doesn’t tell you anything about how well your body will absorb the antioxidant, nor what it does in your body.