They go hand-in-hand. Quick and dirty (and extremely simplified): in overabundance, free radicals damage your body and health; antioxidants stop them.
Free radicals are unstable molecules. They can be formed from pollutants, cigarette smoke, stresses on you and your body, and other unhealthy lifestyle factors. They will go and “steal” electrons from other molecules (called oxidizing them) to try to stabilize themselves – which then weakens this next molecule, who now needs to go steal an electron… and essentially begins a large chain-reaction of weakening or damaging your cells. To a degree, your body can handle a lot of this and repair itself (the body is an amazing thing! But you do need to treat it well.) If the damage adds up over time, this can lead to things like wrinkles and fatigue, cancer, heart disease, and other health problems.
Antioxidants include some vitamins (vitamins C, E), carotenoids, chemicals like resveratol and EGCG (from grapes, and in green and white teas, respectively), phytochemicals (other compounds found in whole foods), and many more. They can go in and help stabilize that shaky free radical and even undo some of the damage
So make sure every day to push the balance in your favor! Different color foods have different antioxidant properties, that’s why it’s recommended to “eat a rainbow” of produce.
Pump in natural foods rich in antioxidants, and cut back how you can on unhealthy lifestyles that promote damage.
Here’s to your pot o’ gold o’ health at the end of your rainbow!