How Natural Antioxidants Enhance Food Color And Health
  /   Dr. John Snow

How Natural Antioxidants Enhance Food Color And Health

Natural antioxidants are molecules in plant-based foods that help your body fight off free radicals and protect against oxidative stress. Protecting against oxidative stress helps to prevent damage to cells, inflammation, and promotes overall health and well-being. From increasing shelf life and enhancing color to preventing food spoilage, you can find natural antioxidants in many different products for all sorts of reasons. 

What does the world of natural antioxidants look like? Where you can find them and how do they not only brighten up some foods but also support your child’s health? 

What Are Natural Antioxidants?

Before diving into the list of natural antioxidants, let’s talk about what antioxidants are and what they do. 

Natural antioxidants are compounds that you can find in certain foods that help prevent damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can be harmful if there are too many of them. 

Your body produces free radicals either from normal metabolic processes or in response to external sources like:  

  • Air pollution
  • Ultraviolet rays 
  • Cigarette smoke 

When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, the build-up of free radicals can damage other cells by stealing molecules. This process is called oxidative stress, which can contribute to aging and a higher risk of developing various diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. 

Antioxidants are the superheroes that work to neutralize free radicals by giving up some of their electrons. This process breaks a chain reaction, helping to reduce an imbalance of free radicals and preventing them from causing damage to the body’s cells. 

Natural antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E are important for a child’s diet for several reasons. Children’s growing bodies are more vulnerable to oxidative stress, and antioxidants help to protect against cell damage, supporting healthy development. 

Antioxidants can be classed into two categories: 

  • Nutrient antioxidants are essential compounds, meaning the body can’t produce them on its own. So, you need to get nutrient antioxidants through diet. These include vitamins E and C, as well as minerals like selenium. 
  • Non-nutrient antioxidants, also known as phytochemicals, are not essential compounds, meaning that you technically don’t need them to survive. However, there is evidence that these compounds have health benefits. These include carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols. 

Here are a handful of natural antioxidants you may come across that can increase shelf life and enhance color in several products. 

Vitamin E (Tocopherol)

Vitamin E helps protect cell membranes. It’s commonly used in foods to slow the oxidation of fats to help preserve the overall quality of foods. You can find it naturally in foods like:

  • Nuts 
  • Seeds
  • Vegetable oils (olive and sunflower oil) 
  • Dark leafy greens 

Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant commonly found in plenty of fruits and vegetables like oranges, strawberries, and broccoli. As a potent antioxidant, vitamin C helps protect cells from oxidative stress. 

Acerola cherry extract is a natural oxidant that’s used a lot commercially in food and beverages. It’s also commonly used in the production of dietary supplements. Acerola cherries are known for their high vitamin C content, much higher than oranges and strawberries. 


Rosemary Extract

Rosemary extract is used as a natural antioxidant and is rich in a few compounds, including rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, and carnosol. These compounds have potent antioxidant properties and help prevent the oxidation of oils and fats in several products. Not only does rosemary extract extend shelf life, but it is stable at high temperatures, so it is often used in cooking. 

Green Tea Extract

Green tea extract is one of the richest sources of catechins, especially epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a potent antioxidant. You can find green tea extract in products like dietary supplements, cosmetics, skincare, beverages, and infused foods. 

5 Reasons Natural Antioxidants Are Used In Food

Natural antioxidants are used in foods for several reasons, primarily to slow down the deterioration of foods. The benefits of antioxidants not only impact food quality but support overall health, too. Different natural antioxidants are used depending on the product and reason for use. Here’s why natural antioxidants are such a popular choice in foods: 


One of the main reasons natural antioxidants are used in the food industry is to slow down or prevent oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that causes food to become less desirable in flavor, color, texture, and even nutritional quality. What antioxidants do is slow down this process. In the context of food, oxidation mainly affects fats and oils. So, natural antioxidants like vitamins E and C would be used to preserve the quality of foods for longer. 

Color Enhancement

Natural food coloring, like antioxidants, work in two specific ways. First, many antioxidants are responsible for the pigment of colorful vegetables and fruits. For example, a type of antioxidant, carotenoids, gives carrots their bold orange color. 

The other way that antioxidants enhance color is by protecting the pigment from degrading. For instance, chlorophyll is the pigment in green foods such as spinach and collard greens. These types of food are susceptible to degradation, and antioxidants like vitamins E and C help preserve chlorophyll. 


So, what else can antioxidants do? (In case you haven’t realized, we’re big fans of antioxidants.)

Antioxidants can protect the compounds responsible for aroma and flavor. This is especially important for persevering the taste of spices and herbs. These types of foods contain oils, which are prone to oxidation. Antioxidants help preserve the flavor by neutralizing free radicals, preventing oxidation, and making the foods stay fresh for longer. 

Health Benefits

Natural antioxidants benefit all family members by helping neutralize free radicals in the body, which can potentially reduce the risk of chronic disease. Natural sources of antioxidants include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, all of which offer their own benefits. 

Enhance Nutritional Content

By preserving foods, antioxidants perform another crucial job: maintaining nutritional content. Oxidation can lead to degradation of vitamins and essential oils. Antioxidants help to protect these critical compounds. 

Many antioxidants also offer nutritional benefits in addition to being powerful antioxidants, like: 

  • Vitamin C - supports the immune system. 
  • Vitamin E - contributes to healthy skin.  
  • Beta-carotene -  converts to vitamin A in the body, which is crucial for healthy vision. 
  • Polyphenols - may have anti-inflammatory effects and support heart health. 

How Natural Antioxidants Enhance Health 

So, why all the fuss about natural antioxidants?

A diet rich in natural antioxidants is beneficial for the whole family to help protect against the damaging effects of free radicals. 

Here are several ways natural antioxidants can enhance children’s overall health and support growth, development, and well-being. 

  • Cellular protection - antioxidants protect cells from damage by free radicals, promoting healthy development. 
  • Healthy vision - antioxidants like vitamin A and beta-carotene are essential for healthy vision. 
  • Heart health - some antioxidants like polyphenols may support healthy blood vessels. 
  • Healthy skin - the antioxidant vitamin E supports skin integrity and helps maintain a healthy complexion. 
  • Bone health - vitamin K, which has antioxidant properties, supports healthy bones. 

Studies suggest that a diet high in antioxidants is associated with a lower risk of oxidative stress-related diseases like cardiovascular diseases. 

The health benefits of antioxidants may extend to cognitive function and thinking. One Harvard study found that people who followed a diet high in flavonoids (a powerful antioxidant agent) were 19% less likely to have trouble with memory and thinking. 

Interestingly, one review found that children with obesity have high rates of micronutrient deficiencies. The most common deficiencies were vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, iron, folic acid, zinc, and copper. Eating a healthy and balanced diet with lots of natural antioxidant-rich foods not only supports growth and overall health but promotes a healthy weight. 

Good Sources Of Natural Antioxidants

Foods rich in antioxidants are typically plant-based, especially fruits and veggies. But you can also find them in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and some animal-based foods. 

If you’re looking to up your family’s intake of antioxidants, there are plenty of options to choose from:  

  • Vitamin C - citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits), strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers (especially red and yellow), broccoli, and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin E - almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, spinach, broccoli, and vegetable oils. 
  • Beta-carotene - sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, kale, spinach, and mangoes.
  • Lycopene - tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, and papaya.
  • Flavonoids - berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), citrus fruits, apples, onions, and tea (green and black).
  • Anthocyanins - berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries), eggplant, cherries, grapes, and red cabbage.
  • Quercetin - apples, onions, berries (cranberries, raspberries), and citrus fruits. 
  • Curcumin - turmeric 
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin - dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard), broccoli, peas, and egg yolks.
  • Polyphenols - green tea and dark chocolate
  • Glutathione – avocados, spinach, asparagus, and okra.

Boost Your Natural Antioxidant Intake

The good thing about upping your child’s natural antioxidant intake is that it often means eating more of the good stuff. Think colorful fruits and veggies. A healthy and well-balanced diet full of high-antioxidant foods usually means eating a variety of foods from the main five groups each day: 

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits 
  • Whole grains 
  • Protein foods
  • Dairy and dairy alternatives 

Kids don’t always want to eat the healthiest option. Here are some practical tips to incorporate more antioxidants into your kid’s diet: 

  • Make smoothies 
  • Offer up colorful fruits and vegetables in meals and snacks 
  • Try berries as a snack 
  • Include a natural multivitamin into their diet
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grains 
  • Involve children in the cooking process if you can 
  • Make fruit popsicles with fresh produce 
  • Experiment with herbs and spices in cooking to introduce more flavor 

For more recipes, try our 8 healthy breakfast ideas for kids

A balanced and varied diet is always the best way for kids to get all those essential nutrients they need to grow big and strong. But a natural multivitamin or probiotic can be a helpful nutritional sidekick, especially for picky eaters or those with dietary restrictions. By hitting your child’s nutritional needs and incorporating antioxidant-rich foods, you can support growing bodies now and in the future. 


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Harvard finds flavonoids linked to sharper thinking and memory | Harvard Health Publishing 

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Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health | Pharmacognosy Review 

Understanding antioxidants | Harvard Medical School 

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