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Nutrition and Your Own Antioxidants

  • Barbara Depta
Nutrition and Your Own Antioxidants


Counting your macros - aka. your macronutrients carbs, fat, and protein -  is all the rage these days. But if you’re not making sure you get your micronutrients too, you might not be getting the results you’re after. Let’s take the guesswork out of what to eat to support your body’s defenses so you can get to living your best life.

Eat your antioxidants, but support your body too!

You’ve heard of superfoods, but why are they so important?  The fact is, green veggies, fatty fish, organ meats, nuts, whole grains and seeds are dense with micronutrients, the necessary chemicals that support your body in controlling inflammation, oxidation, and a healthy immune response.

But keep in mind that just eating them alone - think of any single-ingredient vitamin supplement that claims to cure the common cold or strengthen your hair and nails - isn’t enough to really support your antioxidant systems.  By getting a spread of antioxidants and related nutrients through food, you support your own body’s ability to detox and heal itself.

Think of it like controlling a fire.  Sure, you can try to smother it, but you won’t get the blaze under control until you deal with the embers themselves.

But wait, why can’t I just supplement with more antioxidants? That should take care of any stress and damage, right?

Your body burns calories to create work, literally.  The chemical reaction that creates energy is the same as a fire burning wood, just more tightly controlled. You can think of oxidative stress - the kind of stress that can happen after a workout or due to normal aging - as an ember that pops out of a furnace that keeps your house running warm. That fire has to run to keep you going, and sometimes that fire burns hot to give you the fuel you need. Some of that energy leaks out as popping embers - embers with the potential to be damaging if you don’t deal with them effectively.  

Imagine you’re trying to deal with these “oxidative stress embers”.  It’s going to take a few steps and you’ll need some equipment. First you’ll need a good pair of gloves to handle the embers, passing each ember from one hand to the other.  This is like the antioxidant vitamins you get in your food, vitamins C and E for example - they’re meant to take the punch out of the damage, but you’ll have to replenish your stores on a regular basis to keep on picking up those embers. These antioxidant gloves can absorb some of the damage caused by oxidation, but they can’t extinguish the ember completely.

I’ve stopped the damage, how do I get rid of the embers?

After you’ve grabbed the embers safely, you need to move them and put them out somewhere. What better than a bucket of ice water?  In your cells, that bucket of water is a pool of glutathione - the master antioxidant in your body.

Your glutathione levels control your body’s ability to deal with oxidative damage: if your glutathione gets spent and you don’t refresh it, you’ll run into problems. Glutathione neutralizes oxidation and repairs the antioxidants that got damaged in the process.

So how do I keep my glutathione levels healthy?

Put enough embers in that bucket, and the ice will melt and then turn to steam. Your body has a system dedicated to keeping glutathione working though. The ice in this analogy is the group of enzymes and nutrients that keep the bucket full of water.  The proteins that make more glutathione, repair glutathione after it’s absorbed oxidation, and get rid of proteins permanently damaged by oxidation are all included in the support system that keeps oxidative stress under control - and you’ll need a lot more than a couple of antioxidants in your multivitamin to keep it healthy.

So, you can think of your antioxidant system in four parts: the damaging oxidant, the antioxidant chain, the glutathione pool, and the system for replenishing glutathione. When you break it down like this, it’s clear that just adding antioxidants only helps with one part.  You need to:

Is eating the right foods to support my antioxidant systems going to be easy?

Easy peasy, and when it gets complex we’re here to provide you with the practical, research-based information and tactics to support your health. We’ll go into what nutrients support our innate antioxidant defenses, which foods are the best sources, and how to make these foods fit into your busy lifestyle.  Most importantly, we’ll show you how everyone in your household can learn to love these foods - yes, even picky eaters and kids, too!

From your trusted source for nutrition and supplement information, Resync.


Written by registered dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated 09/22/2020

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