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Antioxidants: What’s the big deal?

Each weekend, you stumble down to the cafeteria or a diner to wash away the previous evening’s sins. You order eggs, bacon and some toast. Grease sits in little pools in the ripples of the bacon. You down three sugary coffees. When you’re done, you wipe the oil on your pants. You feel the food coma coming on. This seems the easiest way to overcome the pain you currently feel, but the food’s bad for you and you’re probably eating too much of it. As students, it’s sometimes tricky to know how to eat well and find the time and money to do so. So every Sunday this semester, nutrition students Anna Richardson and Melissa Danchak will bring you a column on about various issues of nutrition and some simple recipes that you can make for cheap. 


We’ve all heard it: antioxidant-rich foods can lower your risks of cancer, prevent Alzheimer’s, and even cure wrinkles. These days, you can pick up everything from fruit juice to granola bars advertising their antioxidant powers. But what exactly are they?

Antioxidants are compounds that will decrease the effects of oxidative stress on the body. Free radicals, generally oxygen or nitrogen, are produced by the body during normal metabolism, and can also be caused by pollutants in the environment. These unstable atoms can wreak havoc on your body. Free radicals can damage cell membranes, and even cause DNA mutations. But they aren’t all bad: Your body will use free radicals to help fight viruses and bacteria.

Your body already has a pretty good defense system against unwanted free radicals: it produces antioxidant enzymes for the sole purpose of stabilizing them. Dietary antioxidants are a secondary mechanism for helping your body remove free radicals.

So where can you find antioxidants in foods? Vitamin C and Vitamin E are both effective antioxidants. Try citrus fruits, potatoes, and strawberries, as well as good-quality oils and fats. Other antioxidant-containing foods include dark chocolate, spices, and blueberries. Antioxidant ‘supplements’ can be costly and are often poorly researched. In fact, scientists at Cancer Research UK warn against these supplements and their unsupported claims. ‘Antioxidant’ is not a synonym for ‘healthy’, and antioxidant research is far from complete: some researchers associate these antioxidant supplements with increased rates of cancer, precisely the opposite of what they claim.

So where does that leave us? It’s up to you to decide. But as long as you’re enjoying a varied diet with fruits and vegetables, it’s unlikely that you are missing out on any antioxidant power. Add in some berries or colourful veggies to your day and help your body fight unwanted free radicals.

Even your childhood favourites are hopping on the bandwagon, like blueberries, which are rich in antioxidants and deliciousness.


Recipe: Blueberry Apple Crisp

adapted from Canadian Living

Enjoy some antioxidants in your dessert: blueberries, apples, oats and coconut oil come together for a dish rich in antioxidants and fibre. Add your own extras such as raspberries, nuts, or pears for a different taste!



6 cups sliced peeled apples of your choice

300 grams fresh or frozen blueberries

¼ cup sugar or sweetener of your choice

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 tbsp lemon juice

¼ tsp cinnamon



½ cup sugar or sweetener of your choice

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup rolled oats

½ tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp coconut oil, melted

Maple syrup to taste


Oven: 350 °F

Baking time: 1 hour


In a large bowl, toss together apples, blueberries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Spread in an 8-inch square baking dish.


In a separate bowl, combine topping ingredients and add maple syrup to taste. Mix evenly. Spread topping mix evenly over filling and place in oven for 1 hour. When topping is golden and fruit are cooked, remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes.



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