Acai bowls are all the rage nowadays. I love them myself. While walking down the street, I’m sure you’ve noticed signs claiming their acai bowls are “packed with antioxidants” or “nutrient-dense.”

But what does that actually mean?

Antioxidants are substances that protect our cells from free radical (or oxidant) damage. Free radicals (also known as reactive oxygen species) can occur from exposure to smoking, chemicals, pollution, tissue trauma (injury), ozone exposure, radiation, foods, and even as a byproduct of normal body metabolism.

If free radicals cannot be processed and removed efficiently from the body, it can result in what is known as oxidative stress. This can harm cells and alter proper function.

Oxidative stress has been linked to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, respiratory diseases, immune deficiency, emphysema, Parkinson’s disease, and other inflammatory or ischemic conditions.

Antioxidants play a role by neutralizing the damage caused by oxidative stress. But how exactly does this work?

One study states, “Antioxidants act as radical scavenger, hydrogen donor, electron donor, peroxide decomposer, singlet oxygen quencher, enzyme inhibitor, synergist, and metal-chelating agents.”

In other words, antioxidants donate electrons to free radicals, which neutralizes them and stops them from causing us harm.

Antioxidant vitamins and minerals include vitamins A (and carotenoids), C, and E, as well as selenium, manganese, and phytochemicals like lutein, quercetin, and lycopene.

These antioxidants might be found in many of the foods you are already eating. The best sources of antioxidants are found in plant-based foods. They are most highly concentrated in vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains.

Consuming antioxidant-rich foods are good for the overall health of you heart, as well as lower your risk for infections and even some forms of cancer!

Each antioxidant serves a specific role, so it is important to consume a varied diet to get all your antioxidants!

Foods high in antioxidants include: apples, blueberries, broccoli, spinach, lentils, and big leafy greens. The more vibrantly-colored foods tend to have higher levels of antioxidants, as a general rule.

Bottom line: free radical damage can contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and loss of vision.

There is an abundance of evidence suggesting eating mostly whole foods, including large amounts of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains (all having some antioxidant benefits) will provide protection against many of the chronic diseases we see today.

So go grab yourself an acai bowl. Or better yet, make it yourself!

Though based in research, personal, and clinical experience, the opinions in this article should not be taken as medical advice. Botanical medicine and nutraceuticals should be treated with the same caution and care as pharmaceuticals, as both have the potential for strong, potentially adverse effects and allergic reactions. Please consult a trained, licensed health care practitioner before proceeding.