Understanding Antioxidants in Food

What is an antioxidant?

Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances found in some of nature’s best-tasting foods and beverages, including tea. Also abundant in fruits, vegetables and chocolate, they include nutrients such as beta carotene, vitamins C and E and selenium that can prevent or repair damage that has been done to body cells through exposure to free radicals. Unstable molecules that can damage the cells in our bodies, free radicals are produced as a part of our metabolism, but they also come from air pollution, alcohol, pesticides, sunlight, smoke and fried foods. Quite literally, antioxidants fight the oxidative stress these molecules can cause.

Among myriad other benefits, antioxidants can prevent LDL (low-density lipoprotein, also known as “bad cholesterol”) from becoming oxidized, which makes it stickier, making it more of a threat to our arteries. Antioxidants may also improve immune function and perhaps lower the risk for infection and cancer.

In our bodies, the antioxidant process is similar to stopping a cut apple from turning brown. Once sliced, an apple begins to rust very quickly. But if you dip it in lemon juice, which contains vitamin C, it won’t brown.

While many teas are rich in antioxidants, green100% Whiteoolong and black teascaffeinated or decaffeinated are among the most powerful. Some herbal blends, especially rooibos, also provide abundant antioxidants. A Consumer Reports test found that tea steeped from tea bags scored highest in antioxidant content among all brewed, bottled and instant teas.

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