Antioxidants protect the body
Antioxidants are substances that, among other things, protects us from the free radicals that cause oxidation. This chemical process damages the membranes and DNA of the cells in our bodies.
Fresh fruit and berries are rich in antioxidants and so is coffee. Several different compounds have antioxidant effects, including vitamin C and E, selenium and zinc. Antioxidants are also produced naturally in the body.
In addition to antioxidants naturally occurring in a variety of foods, they can also be added to foods. If you eat the recommended daily intake of wholewheat bread and other whole grain products, you will get antioxidants through nutrients such as vitamin E and selenium. Eating about 750 g of fruit (including berries) and vegetables every day will ensure your body gets the antioxidant protection it needs.
Your vitamin E requirement increases with age
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble substance found in foods like plant oils, cereals, nuts, fish, cod liver oil, wheat germ, margarine, eggs, mangoes and avocadoes. This important antioxidant protects cell membranes from free oxygen radicals and keeps cell membranes soft.
Vitamin E is the common name for the substances tocopherol and tocotrienol, and these are found in eight different forms, all of which have antioxidant effects on the body. Alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active and it is also the most common in animal tissue.
If you are ill or exposed to pollution or other environmental factors, your production of reactive oxygen compounds and free radicals could increase significantly, which in turn increases your body’s requirement for antioxidants.
Smokers or athletes are exposed to more free radicals than the average person and may need to increase their intake of antioxidants through dietary supplements, for example. Consult your GP to find out if you are at risk.
Your requirement for vitamin E also increases with age because vitamin E protects your body’s cells from damage caused by harmful by-products of metabolism, which increase with age.
Lack of vitamin E is rare nowadays, but some groups may be at risk – such as premature babies and people with poor intestinal uptake. The daily requirement for vitamin E is 8 mg for women, 10 mg for men and slightly higher for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers – and lower for children.
It’s also worth noting that you can ingest too much vitamin E. Unlike vitamin C, which is water-soluble and thus excreted by the urine, vitamin E is fat-soluble. Excess is therefore stored in the liver and adipose tissue.
Vitamin C increases iron intake
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, contributes to the formation and maintenance of connective tissue in your body, as well as to strengthening the body’s immune system. The vitamin also increases your uptake of iron from vegetable sources by up to four times. While most animals produce vitamin C naturally in their bodies, humans are one of the few species that cannot produce this substance themselves.
In addition to being a super immune system booster, vitamin C is essential for maintaining the normal functioning of the nervous system. The vitamin is plentiful in citrus fruits, blackcurrants, turnips, potatoes, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes.
Due to reduced uptake, smokers have almost twice the need for vitamin C compared to non-smokers. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 60 mg for adults, 70 mg for pregnant women, 90 mg for breastfeeding mothers and 30–50 mg for children. These requirements increase with age.
Overdoses of vitamin C are very rare because, as mentioned, excess of this water-soluble vitamin is eliminated in the urine.