Fruit and vegetables, foods rich in antioxidants

Fruit and vegetables, foods rich in antioxidants

Rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, fruit and vegetables are vital foods for our body, and are our best allies for health and vitality. INPES, in its national programme for nutrition and health, recommends eating a minimum of 5 portions every day! *

But why such enthusiasm for fruit and vegetables?

Their secret: exceptionally rich in antioxidants, giving fruit and vegetables their appetising colours. These well-known compounds defend the body against free radicals (FR), destructive molecules and potentially toxic, which damage our cells and our biological molecules.

Free radicals, what are they ?

A free radical (FR) is an atom characterised by the presence of an unbound electron, namely unpaired, which makes it unstable and particularly aggressive to the surrounding molecules.

To find its original partner, a source of stability, the free radical "attacks" other atoms and "rips away" the precious missing electron; this dispossessed atom in turn becomes a free radical.


This is how a chain of destructive reactions is set off, the cause of frequently irreversible damage on the biological substrates such as enzymes, proteins, DNA... and leads in the medium to longer term to tissue age, depending of your genetic stock... unless antioxidants are introduced.

The physiological circumstances leading to the production of FRs:

Physiological oxidation, a vital function, namely breathing. Indeed, it's a genuine paradox that oxygen, the driving force behind cellular chemical reactions, hungry for free electrons, is the main cause of FRs!
During inflammatory and infectious processes

During repeated exposure to stress or potential toxins (pollution, tobacco, pesticides, medicinal drugs…)

Our environment is also a source of free radical production:

  • during excessive exposure to the sun
  • during exposure to electromagnetic radiation, pollution, pesticides…

The formation and utilisation of free radicals can, however, be of vital importance for the body: this is the case during the process of antibacterial defence, gene regulation and cell destruction.

Excess free radicals and oxidative stress

Fortunately the body has its own defence arsenal:

  • internal: enzymes, proteins and trace elements such as copper, zinc and selenium
  • external: provided through the diet, particularly our famous fruit and vegetables rich in equally well-known molecules: carotenoids and polyphenols including flavonoids, tannins (cocoa, tea, grapes), red or blue fruit anthocyans, vitamins C and E…

But if the production of FRs exceeds the body's neutralisation capacity, we talk about oxidative stress. This occurs:

  • if the diet is lacking in antoxidative nutrients or is imbalanced by an excess of sugars, fats, etc., very frequently the case in industrialised societies
  • during chronic stress, often the case in the modern world, a real enemy as far as the consumption of nutrients and antioxidants is concerned
  • in the event of repeated or massive exposure to chemical pollutants or to UV or electromagnetic radiation
  • during intensive endurance sports
  • during chronic or acute inflammatory phenomena

The consequences

The uncontrolled production of "ravaging" FRs will impact the tissue and organs and thereby have a direct impact on ageing:

  • This is manifested through the loss of elasticity in the skin, which fades and becomes wrinkled as a result of the destruction of support fibres (elastin and collagen), the opacification of the crystalline lens...
  • But also the more insidious effects of membrane degradation at the cellular level, causing a cascade of functional disorders, cardio-vascular risks, inflammatory and/or neurodegenerative disorders, even DNA damage

Antioxidants, highly effective against free radicals

We group them together under the name "antioxidants" - the molecules that help protect our body against free radicals. Compounds known as "reductors", they can interact with a free radical ("oxidant") and neutralise it by giving it an electron, so that it becomes stable.

There are many natural antioxidants, namely:

  • Vitamin E, certainly the most well-known antioxidant, which plays a major role in the protection of cell membranes
  • Vitamin C, an essential nutrient for the body
  • Vitamin A, and also carotenoids as they can be converted into vitamin A
  • Minerals such as zinc and selenium
  • Flavonoids, a family of polyphenolic compounds present in most fruit and vegetables

The colours in your meal combat oxidative stress !

If fruit and vegetables have such a diversity of colour, it is because, in addition to antioxidant vitamins and trace elements, they contain pigments with a high anti-radical effect. The darker the colour, the higher the anti-radical effect. The wider the range of colours in the meal, the wider the range of antioxidants, an important factor as they act in synergy and promote the neutralisation of all types of free radicals.

A few antioxidants to add to your plate

Vitamin C Acerola, blackcurrant, parsley, kiwi fruit, broccoli, citrus fruit, etc.
Vitamin E Virgin first cold-press vegetable oils, oil seeds, shellfish etc.
Carotenoids or provitamin A Orange or red-fleshed fruit and vegetables, leaf vegetables, broccoli, etc.
Zinc Seafood, brewer's yeast, pulses, etc.
Selenium Seafood, fish, oil seeds, offal, etc.
Polyphenols Spices, aromatic herbs, onion, red/black fruit, aubergine, red wine, green tea, cocoa, vegetables, pulses, cereals, soya, etc.