There isn’t a strong case to make for antioxidant supplements. They’ve been shown to do nothing more often than not, and even harm in a few cases when dose & #context were mismatched (eg, ATBC and CARET). This is part of what led to the conclusion that we want an appropriate “reactive oxidative species *tone*” or “antioxidant balance.” Or "landscape." Or some other catchphrase of the week.
In line with this, animal models that genetically up- or down-regulate antioxidant pathways are predicted to show negative or no effects because they are, practically by definition, generating a mismatch.
In humans under normal conditions, I believe pro- and anti-oxidants are balanced by our own endogenous processes. If we ingest something that produces a bit too much ROS, they’ll be neutralized. If we ingest something that induces antioxidant processes, they’ll be used if necessary and degraded if not. In other words, as long as you’re not mega-dosing beta-carotene or smoking 2 packs a day, etc., then none of this should matter.
Which brings me to NRF2. I like the concept of periodically inducing our own endogenous detox processes because it seems like they’ll either help or do nothing. Not harm. It’s like, stacking the deck in your favor.
If you ingest something that induces NRF2 and something needs detoxifying (for example, some manifestation of improper ROS tone or inflammation or something), then NRF2 will get it done. Otherwise, NRF2 goes away in about 20 minutes (Kobayashi et al., 2004).
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If NRF2 wasn’t so rapidly degraded, it’d probably get into trouble by messing up something else. So we don’t want chronic NRF2 activation, but we’d like it to check-in on us periodically. Either helpful or no effect. Not harmful. At least this much has panned out in animal studies and was also confirmed by analyzing some over- and under-active NRF2 polymorphisms in humans (eg, Cho et al., 2015).
What induces NRF2 you ask? ALL THE ANTI-CANCER SPICY THINGS we’ve been talking about! Maybe this is why, at least in part, they’re anti-cancer in the first place.
Are they essential? No. Your body doesn't need them. Not necessary by any means. But I highly recommend, at least periodically.
Because optimal > necessary.
Again, I don’t think it’d be prudent to obtain the majority of your calories from these foods (which would be unpleasant at best and harmful at worst). Maybe a bit of 2 or 3 different candidates once or twice a day? Every other day?
The goal should be to maintain or improve brain function and physical performance. And not get cancer. There are plenty of behaviors that could support those goals; you just don’t want to be the person who realizes too late that instead of aiming for the low-hanging fruit all along, you’ve brought a cup of water to a forest fire.