Ask Cheryl: What are Antioxidants & What Do They Do?

Antioxidants Nutrition

We’ve all heard about the protective properties of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, but what exactly are they and what do they do? To understand this, first we must dig deep and do a little biology and chemistry lesson…it will be painless, I promise. Let’s get to it!

The Science

To understand antioxidants, first we must explain free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen molecules with one or more unpaired electrons (have I lost you yet?). Why is this a problem? The free radical with its unpaired electron zips around your body and tries to steal an electron from another molecule to neutralize its negative charge and once it does this, it creates another free radical from the molecule it stole from. This ongoing process results in damage referred to as oxidation or oxidative stress and can ultimately damage DNA, which in turn can cause mutations that inhibit protein production in your body and lead to cancer and other diseases.

How does this process start? Well, sorry to say, but it’s a part of the normal aging process. As we breathe in oxygen, about 2% of it is said to make free radicals. Other lifestyle habits such as smoking, sunlight radiation, and pollution exacerbate this problem. Luckily our bodies have natural defenses against free radicals, but these processes slow with aging. Would you like to know another way to fight free radicals? Nutrition!

What Can You Do?

There are many foods, in particular fruits and vegetables, that are packed full of antioxidants. Antioxidants circulate in your body and donate their electrons to free radicals, which stops the damaging chain reactions that free radicals create. Some of the most important antioxidants from food are vitamins A, C, and E, minerals that support your body’s natural antioxidant defenses, and plants properties called phytochemicals that give fruits and veggies their vibrant colors.

So, the lesson of the day? Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially those that are bright colors such as green, red, and orange.


What’s the best way to get a variety of antioxidants in one sitting? A smoothie! Smoothies, especially those packed with greens, can be the prescription you need to boost your body’s natural free radical defenses. Below is a recipe for a Create-Your-Own Green Smoothie, utilizing this fall’s seasonal produce for an antioxidant punch!


Create-Your-Own Green Smoothie

Antioxidant Smoothie

The Formula: Greens + Liquid + Fruit + Extras

Choose 1-2 cups of greens:

  • Kale, spinach, chard, romaine, or any other green

Choose 2 cups of liquid:

  • Water, coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk

Choose 2-3 cups of fruit:

  • Banana, apple, pear, persimmon, avocado, oranges, etc


  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, cayenne, chia seeds, flax seeds, yogurt


Want to learn more about healthy aging? Check out my book, Positively Ageless!

© Cheryl Forberg 2016