Antioxidants are important compounds or substances that help preserve the integrity of the body’s cells by combating and neutralizing free radical damage. Free radicals, to explain further, are unstable and potentially harmful molecules that are formed when oxygen is metabolized in the body.
The accumulation of these oxidants, or free radicals, paves the way for oxidative stress that can significantly hamper the make of your DNA and other cell structures. Chronic oxidative stress is often irreversible and lays the ground for the onset of chronic ailments, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
One essential safeguard to offset such persistent cell damage at the hands of free radicals is to increase your intake of antioxidant-rich foods. Even though antioxidants are naturally present in the body itself, they are often in short supply as opposed to the harmful oxidants.
This calls for the supplementation of antioxidants through an external source, preferably through your diet. This is no tall order, especially because a number of fruits and vegetables are generously endowed with vitamin A, C, and E, and the minerals copper, zinc, and selenium, which are all prime examples of such nutrient antioxidants.
However, non-nutrient dietary compounds, which include phytochemicals such as lycopene in tomatoes, anthocyanins in cranberries, flavanols in chocolate, resveratrol in red wine, and beta-carotene in carrots, are said to exhibit greater cell protective potency than their nutrient counterparts.
A 2011 study published in the American Chemical Society reports that antioxidants are an important factor to maintain optimal cellular and human body health. Antioxidants help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of different chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.(1)
With on-the-go lifestyles increasingly becoming the norm, a lot of people find it more convenient to get their fill of these antioxidants in the form of tablets or supplements. This may save your time and the effort but it’s found that natural antioxidants derived from food sources work better than supplements.
Fruits and vegetables contain just the right amount of antioxidants and also offer a whole mix of other nutrients to help maintain a healthy balance within the body. Supplements, on the other hand, might end up causing an excess of a particular vitamin or mineral that can hamper the body’s ability to absorb or use other nutrients.
Furthermore, these supplements can interfere or adversely interact with other medications that you are taking such as antibiotics and diuretics. This means that antioxidants in any form should be consumed in moderation as too much of a good thing can be bad-in this case, particularly bad for your body.
Alternative Sources of Antioxidants
Here are 10 antioxidant-rich foods to supercharge your diet.
1. Eat Dark Chocolate
Good news for all chocolate lovers! Dark chocolate, made from the seed of the cacao tree, is a great source of antioxidants. They come in the form of flavanols and polyphenols.
Other healthy nutrients in dark chocolate are soluble fiber, potassium, manganese, zinc, selenium, copper, magnesium, and iron.(3)
- For optimum health benefit, use dark chocolate with at least 60% cocoa content.
- As dark chocolate comes with some calories and moderate amounts of sugar, eat it in moderation to reap the health benefits without overdosing on sugar or calories.
2. Prefer Boiled Artichokes
Artichokes are dark-colored vegetables that are rich sources of antioxidants, particularly an antioxidant that goes by the name of chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic acid can help mitigate the risk of some serious health scares, such as certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Moreover, artichokes are replete with dietary fiber and several essential nutrients, including vitamin A, C, E, B, and K, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorous. The fact that their calorific content is pretty low just adds to their health-promoting potential.(4)
It is important to bear in mind that the method of preparation can considerably amplify or take away the impressive antioxidant benefits of artichokes. Boiling and steaming not only help preserve the antioxidant power of artichokes but can increase it to a certain degree. On the other hand, frying artichokes may reduce their antioxidant prowess.(5)
3. Munch Some Pecans Daily
All types of nuts are rich sources of antioxidants, but pecans top the list.
Pecans contain different forms of antioxidants such as vitamin E (known as tocopherols), as well as other phenolic substances, many of them with antioxidant abilities.
These nuts also boast several important B complex vitamins, vitamin A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. What’s more is that pecans are also a great source of unsaturated fats and protein.(6)(7)
To reap the antioxidant benefit of pecans, try sprinkling them on top of pancakes or waffles, fruit-flavored yogurt, or hot or cold cereal.
4. Include Blueberries in Your Diet
The tiny blue-colored berries are packed with antioxidants. In fact, blueberries are in the lead when it comes to antioxidant content compared with several other commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.(8)
The antioxidants in blueberries, especially a type called anthocyanins, are highly beneficial for your health. This is because they may help lower insulin resistance and are thought to play a role in type 2 diabetes.(9) These anthocyanins have also been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and lowering LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Moreover, blueberries are thought to be effective in delaying age-related cognitive decline owing to their free-radical fighting potential.
What makes the case for these succulent rich-colored berries even stronger is that they are also loaded with vitamin C and K, and manganese along with riboflavin, folate, fiber, niacin, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, and zinc.(10)
- Just a ½ cup of blueberries can give you all the antioxidants you need for the day. You can eat them whole or use them in granolas, fruit salads, cereals, or smoothies.
5. Add Kale to Your Diet
Kale, belonging to a whole line of cruciferous veggies such as cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli, is another antioxidant-rich food that you should consider including in your diet.
Kale contains a variety of antioxidants with the most popular ones being quercetin and kaempferol. Both of these compounds are believed to exhibit the potential to fight different diseases such as heart disease and cancer.(11)
This leafy green vegetable also packs a number of vitamins in its folds such as, vitamin A, C, and K, as well as several B vitamins. It also has nutrients such as dietary fiber, magnesium, calcium, manganese, copper, potassium, iron, phosphorus, and protein.
Furthermore, the red varieties of kale, such as Redbor and Red Russian kale, are considered to be even more potent as they contain nearly double the number of antioxidants than that of regular kale. In fact, it is on account of this abundant supply of antioxidants, including anthocyanins, that red kale gets its color.
- You can make kale chips or use the leaves in tasty smoothies, soups, or salads. The suggested serving size is from 1½ to 2 cups.
6. Consume a Cup of Spinach Daily
Popeye was definately onto something when he couldn’t get enough of spinach himself and prodded others to do the same. Spinach, as it turns out, is one of the most nutritionally dense leafy green vegetables there is: enriched with a heavy dose of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants while being incredibly low in calories.(13)
In fact, it is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, an antioxidant known for its anticancer, antiaging, and heart-protecting properties.(14)(15) It also has an abundance of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help shield the eyes from UV light-induced damage.
Furthermore, spinach is also blessed with a heavy supply of dietary fiber and vitamin A, B2, C, E, and K, and contains minerals including manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, and folate.(16)
- Aim to eat at least 1 cup of spinach regularly. You can add it to your salads, smoothies, juice, sandwiches, stir-fries, and main dishes.
7. A Handful of Strawberries
These sweet-tasting and richly colored berries figure among some of the high-ranking antioxidant-rich foods, being a rich source of anthocyanins, vitamin C and K, and several B vitamins.
The anthocyanins, in particular, are antioxidants that protect against cardiovascular disease by lowering bad cholesterol and also impart the berries their vibrant color.(17)
Strawberries also contain magnesium, manganese, potassium, dietary fiber, folate, copper, potassium, biotin, and omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, they have high water content and are low in calories.(18)
- Eat a handful of ripe strawberries as a healthy snack to reap their antioxidant benefits.
- You can also add a few strawberries to your favorite smoothie, milkshake, salad, ice cream, and pie.
8. Undertake Beetroots
When it comes to antioxidant capacity, you simply cannot ignore beetroots.
Beets are rich in the antioxidant betalain, which may play a role in protecting the body against a wide range of diseases, especially heart disease and cancer.(19)
The root of the beet contains vitamin A, B6, and C, as well as potassium, magnesium, iron, folic acid, zinc, carbohydrates, protein, and soluble fiber. Also, the green leafy tops are rich in vitamin C, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
- To enjoy the antioxidant power of beets, both their leaves and roots can be eaten. The root can be eaten raw in salad or cooked with the skin on to retain all the nutrients in it.
9. Eat Broccoli
Out of all the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli is one of the best sources of antioxidants.(20) The antioxidants in broccoli are the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene.
This green vegetable is also packed with a variety of vitamins, such as vitamin C, K, and A. It also has fiber, manganese, potassium, iron, folate, and protein.(21)
Incorporate broccoli into your meals on a regular basis. The best way to have broccoli is to steam it, as the antioxidant capacity of most nutrients such as vitamin C gets decimated by heavy cooking. On the contrary, though, the antioxidant compound beta-carotene becomes more potent on cooking the vegetable.
10. Consider Having Beans
Beans are a diverse group of legumes that are inexpensive and healthy. They also offer an impressive supply of antioxidants.
Beans are rich in compounds called flavonoids that act as antioxidants. Red and black beans have the highest antioxidant levels.
All types of beans are known for being incredibly high in fiber, which can help keep your bowel movements regular.(22) Also, most beans offer an amazing package of nutrients, including many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, protein, calcium, zinc, selenium, and folate.
- You can use beans to prepare a protein-rich base for soups, stews, and curries.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Ana Reisdorf (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)
What are the best antioxidants?
There really aren’t any “best” antioxidants. Several vitamins and phytonutrients have antioxidant properties. There aren’t any specific ones that are better than others.
What happens if there is an antioxidant overdose?
You can’t have an antioxidant overdose from foods. Vitamin C, for example, is an antioxidant. You can take too much vitamin C, which will result in vomiting and diarrhea.
Each vitamin or phytonutrient with antioxidant properties would have a different reaction if taken in excess. This would only happen with supplements. Always follow the dosage on the label.
Is coffee considered an antioxidant?
Yes, coffee is extremely high in antioxidants.
How much antioxidant do we need daily?
There is no recommended amount for antioxidants.
Which fruits have the highest antioxidant content?
The FRAP scale is used to measure the antioxidant content of various foods. Wild blueberry, raspberries, and blackberries figure as some of the most antioxidant-rich fruits.
Is it safe to take antioxidants in the form of supplements?
Yes, generally they are considered safe. As I mentioned, vitamin C is one such antioxidant which is often consumed in supplement form, if you are unable to meet your daily need through diet alone.
Please provide some additional tips or inputs to enlighten our readers about the benefits of antioxidant-rich foods.
Antioxidants are primarily found in plant foods. A diet high in fruits and vegetables will always be a high antioxidant diet.
About Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD: Ms. Reisdorf is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance writer with 12-years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. Through her writing, she demonstrates her passion for helping people achieve ideal health and make transformational changes in their lives.
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