A wide variety of oxygen free radicals and other reactive oxygen species can be formed in the human body and in food systems. Transition metal ions accelerate free-radical damage. Antioxidant defenses, both enzymic and nonenzymic, protect the body against oxidative damage, but they are not 100% efficient, and so free-radical damage must be constantly repaired. Nonenzymatic antioxidants are frequently added to foods to prevent lipid peroxidation. Several lipid antioxidants can exert prooxidant effects toward other molecules under certain circumstances, and so antioxidants for food and therapeutic use must be characterized carefully. Methods of measuring oxidative damage and trapping free radicals in vivo are briefly discussed. Such methods are essential in checking proposals that increased intake of food-derived antioxidants (such as antioxidant vitamins) would be beneficial to humans.