Antioxidants are essential 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 additions of these oxidants, or free radicals, opens 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 vital 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. This is large because fruits and vegetables contain just the right amount of these 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.
Below are some of the top alternative sources antioxide-rich foods
1. 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.(2)(3)
To reap the antioxidant benefit of pecans, try sprinkling them on top of pancakes or waffles, fruit-flavored yogurt, or hot or cold cereal.
Note: Despite being laden with healthy fats, pecans also score high on the calorie scale and therefore should be consumed in moderation.
2. 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.(4) 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. Plus, it contains very little fat, most of which is the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).(5)
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.
3. 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.(7)
- 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.
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. 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.(11)
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.
6. 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.(12) 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.
7. Eat Broccoli
Out of all the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli is one of the best sources of antioxidants.(13) 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.(14)
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.
8. 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.(15)
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.(16)
- 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.