Free Radicals, Antioxidants and Trans Fats


My current unit on my nutritionist consultant course has been on cell health. Your cells health is vital for your health. The quick summary is that Free Radicals and Trans Fats can negatively interfere with your cells health, and Antioxidants can help protect your cells health.


A free radical is a molecule with an unpaired electron. Through oxidation the free radical takes an electron from a molecule, resulting in the creation of other free radicals.

When there is an excess of free radicals it results in oxidative stress. This can result in:

  • Damage to your energy producing mitochondria.
  • Inflammation diseases and tissue damage leading to nerve pains.
  • Oxidised cholesterol (causing artery blockage) – Cardio Vascular risk
  • ‘Adversely alter lipids, proteins, and DNA and trigger a number of human diseases’ (Lobo, Patil, Phatak & Chandra, 2010). Increasing risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, cataracts, rapid aging, and fatigue.

There are some benefits of free radicals: they activate genes used by the liver for detoxification, and the immune cells use them to kill microorganisms and some cancer cells. Therefore, the key is to not have excess free radicals and to ensure they are balanced with antioxidants.

Where do Free Radicals come from?:

Free radicals are made in our body during energy production and while our immune system is active (chronic infections, inflammation, etc)

There are also external sources: UV light, X-rays, air pollution and smog, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, pesticides and herbicides, food contaminants like mould, colouring additives, rancid oils, and heavy metals.



Antioxidants are stable molecules that donate electrons to neutralize free radicals. They stop the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged; although they themselves become free radicals and need to be regenerated to function. We find antioxidants naturally in our body and from the food we consume.

Antioxidant Vitamins:

Fat-soluble vitamins are generally not lost in cooking; they are stored in the liver.

  • Vitamin E sunflower seeds, almonds, leafy greens, avocado.
  • Vitamin A – sweet potato, carrot, dark leafy greens, squash.
  • Vitamin D – oily fish, mushrooms, dairy products, eggs.
  • Vitamin K – leafy greens, herbs, broccoli, brussels sprouts.

Water-soluble vitamins are needed daily as they are not stored in the body and cooking destroys them.

  • Vitamin C – bell peppers, dark leafy greens, papaya, kiwi, citrus fruit.
  • Vitamin B6 (used to make CoQ10) – sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, tuna, sweet potato, salmon, turkey.

Antioxidant Minerals:

  • Selenium – brazil nuts, seafood, tuna, seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin).
  • Zinc – seafood, beef/lamb, wheat germ, spinach, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds.

Antioxidant Phytonutrients :

  • Carotenoids (eg beta carotene, lycopene, lutein) are fat-soluble and made more available by cooking – carrots, pumpkin, tomatoes, spinach.
  • Bioflavonoids (water soluble) – Acai berry, soy products, berries, red wine, grapes, green tea, citrus fruit, buckwheat, cruciferous vegetables, cacao.


  • Alpha lipoic acid (both water- and fat-soluble)
is one of our most valuable antioxidants, a vitamin-like compound predominately made by our cells – low levels in organ meat, spinach, broccoli.
  • Coenzyme Q10, a fat-soluble molecule, part of the ubiquinone compound family – salmon, tuna, organ meats, whole grains, spinach, broccoli.
  • Amino acids, particularly L-cysteine, glycine, glutamine, methionine, as these are needed to make tri-peptide called glutathione (GSH) the master antioxidant – meat, fish, eggs, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, dairy, leafy greens, pumpkin, soya.

Tip: when buying look for the most coloured as they have the higher concentration of antioxidants.

TOP antioxidant foods for Low FODMAP diet – Dark leafy greens, acai berries, berries, citrus fruit, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, herbs, pumpkin, sweet potato, whole grains especially buckwheat, seeds and nuts, bell pepper, papaya (if you can fish and soya).



Trans fatty acids are a type of fat alongside unsaturated and saturated fat. Trans fatty acids can be found naturally in animal products in small quantities. Most of our intake comes from an artificial process called hydrogenation (adding hydrogen to vegetable oils) creating partially hydrogenated oil.

Problems of Trans Fatty Acids:

  • This artificial process straightens the curved flexible fatty acid chain making the cell membrane rigid, reducing its functionality.
  • Raises the bad LDL cholesterol and lowers the good HDL cholesterol. Increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes (de Souza et al., 2015)

Sources of Trans Fatty Acids:
Fats are an important part of our diet and we just need to watch the type of fats we consume – avoiding trans fat, limiting saturated fat, and instead enjoying unsaturated fats.

Trans fat is mostly found in processed foods like coffee creamer, baked goods, fast food, frozen meals, snack foods, vegetable shortenings and margarine.

Warning: Look at the nutrition labels on your food to see the trans fat content. Even if it says no trans fat still proceed with caution, as less than 0.5% of it in a portion counts as none, but companies can adjust the portion size to qualify.


-Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2014). Foundations of N utrition. Berkeley, CA: Bauman College.
– de Souza, R., Mente, A., Maroleanu, A., Cozma, A., Ha, V., & Kishibe, T. et al. (2015). Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ, h3978. doi:10.1136/bmj.h3978,. (2015). Talking About Trans Fat: What You Need to Know
HealthAliciousNess,. (2015). Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin B6
– Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(8), 118. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70902,. (2015). Coenzyme Q10 | Linus Pauling Institute | Oregon State University,. (2015). Lipoic Acid | Linus Pauling Institute | Oregon State University. 
Products, L. (2015). Lipoic Acid, the Antioxidant’s Antioxidant.
-Saini, R. (2011). Coenzyme Q10: The essential nutrient. Journal Of Pharmacy And Bioallied Sciences, 3(3), 466. doi:10.4103/0975-7406.84471,. (2015). The World’s Healthiest Foods. 

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