So you want to make sure you’re eating the healthiest foods possible. You’re certainly not alone. We all want to feed our bodies the foods that they truly need, but sometimes these can be tough waters to navigate. What’s more is that the food industry can sometimes make it tough on you, the discerning consumer, by throwing out a new buzzword every few years or so.
Not long ago, it was “trans fats.” These days, foods that are high in antioxidants are the way to go. “Reduce Free Radicals!” your food labels shout at you. “High in antioxidants!” has become a siren song that’s constantly beckoning you to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
But how important are these antioxidants, really? Recent studies suggest that they might not actually be that necessary, after all.
What antioxidants are said to do:
The companies in charge of putting the labels on most of your food would have you believe that the antioxidants are a veritable wonder-substance that will have you enjoying increased health by way of lowered risk for things like cancer, heart disease, aging, and vision loss.
All of this would be great…if it weren’t just a little too good to be true. US News Health explains that antioxidants haven’t lived up to the claims in clinical studies:
“To date, randomized, placebo-controlled trials are at best inconclusive, but generally don’t provide strong evidence that antioxidant supplements have a substantial impact on diseases such as heart events and cancer.”
What antioxidants actually do:
Antioxidants get in the way of something called oxidative stress. Usually, this is a pretty good thing. Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals, which are compounds whose molecules are missing electrons. This causes them to steal the electrons they need from your body’s DNA, proteins, cells, and so forth. When this happens, you’re at higher risk of things like disease and accelerated aging.
Your body, as it turns out, is actually clever enough to know that it needs to produce these on its own. More of them can be good for you, but too much can be a bad thing for a few different reasons.
Studies have shown that these compounds don’t necessarily fight against the specific maladies that they’re purported to prevent, but simple science shows that sometimes antioxidants can actually get in the way of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in cancer patients.
So should you take antioxidant supplements?
You don’t need to avoid antioxidants at all costs, but you really shouldn’t go out of your way to make sure that you’re consuming them all the time, either.
Your body produces them naturally, and if you’re eating a reasonably healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, you’re getting plenty of them in your food. When it comes to your weekly grocery shopping, though, this one is a buzzword that you can ignore.