Antioxidants help prevent and slow damage to the body’s cells from free radicals, or unstable molecules found in the environment that cause oxidative stress.
As explained by Jessie Szalay, a contributor to Live Science, electrons need to be in pairs for optimal performance, so when oxygen in the body divides into single atoms, these are referred to as free radicals and scour the body in search of other electrons to pair with.
This activity damages cells and tissue, proteins, and the body’s DNA.
These free radicals and the resulting oxidative stress can increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Even Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease have been associated with free radicals. Aging conditions like skin damage, macular eye degeneration, and fatigue can be linked to the harmful effects of free radicals.
Free radicals can be caused by food and drink like fried foods, sugar, and alcohol. They are a byproduct of chemical processes in the body, similar to waste, that builds up over time in the body. They also can come from tobacco, pesticides, and air pollution.
A diet rich in antioxidants can help the body neutralize free radicals and build blood antioxidant levels in the body to fend off these types of health conditions.
Natural antioxidants are found in many plant-based foods, and a combination of these foods makes for not only a delicious diet but a very healthy one as well.
Who says dark chocolate is only a dessert food?
Cocoa is full of antioxidants and minerals like potassium, zinc, phosphorus, and selenium. In fact, a single serving of dark chocolate has 11 grams of fiber, 67 percent the recommended daily intake (RDI) for iron, 58 percent the RDI for magnesium, 89 percent the RDI for copper, and 98 percent the RDI for manganese.
Dark chocolate has a higher cocoa concentration compared to milk and white chocolate and is considered healthy chocolate.
A medical study of 23 healthy individuals showed that eating dark chocolate resulted in reduced low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, and increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol, which can aid in lowering the risk of heart disease.
A second study of 297 individuals over a longer time frame showed reduced systolic blood pressure in those who ate cocoa-rich foods. Higher cocoa content means there are more antioxidants present in the product.
Mix and match and eat your greens
A salad of kale, spinach, and cabbage is the trifecta of antioxidant ruffage and is low in calories. Kale is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, and antioxidants, with red varieties like redbor and red Russian containing levels nearly twice as high. In addition to increasing antioxidant levels in the body, kale also helps strengthen bones and tissue.
Like kale, red cabbage also has high levels of vitamins A, C, and K, and antioxidant levels are more than four times that of regular cooked cabbage. Red cabbage is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer and helps with weight control and diabetes management.
Spinach is a health-rich food loaded with vitamins and minerals. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two antioxidants found in spinach, which also help improve eye health, prevent age-related macular degeneration, and provide protection from UV light.
Reds and blues, berries are a superfood
Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and Goji berries contain anthocyanins.
According to the Annual Review of Food Science and Technology, anthocyanins give fruits and some vegetables their red and blue color, and multiple studies and clinical trials show that anthocyanins decrease inflammation, help with weight control and diabetes management, and serve as an anti-carcinogenic to help prevent cancer.
They are high in antioxidant levels and also help with blood flow and circulation to strengthen bones and tissues.
Berries are also rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and manganese. According to ScienceDirect, a test-tube study found that the antioxidants in raspberries killed up to 90 percent of cancer cells of the stomach, colon, and breast.
In fact, Medical News Today reports that medical researchers found that 50 percent of cancer cells eliminated by antioxidants are from the raspberry extract and black raspberries can even slow the growth of cancerous tumors.
Goji berries come from the Lycium barbarum and Lycium Chinese plants and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are proven to prevent heart disease and cancer and fight the signs of skin aging.
Not only are blueberries high in antioxidant levels, but a research study printed in Nutritional Neuroscience also provided valuable insight into the positive effect of blueberry polyphenols on the central nervous system and anti-aging.
Blueberry polyphenols help decrease declines in cognitive and motor function with the possibility of future pharmacology use.
Go nuts for pecans
Pecans are a superfood and packed with vitamins and minerals like potassium, iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
They contain monounsaturated fats, considered healthy fats, as well as oleic acid and phenolic antioxidants. Their high concentration of antioxidants helps lower LDL levels, or bad cholesterol, within two to eight hours of consumption.
While pecans are a good source of healthy fats and other important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they are high in calories so should be eaten in moderation to avoid weight gain. Additionally, those with diabetes or a pre-diabetic condition should monitor their level of pecan intake.
Be like Jack and grow a beanstalk
Beans are a legume high in protein and fiber to aid in digestive health. They are high in antioxidants, with some varieties having higher concentration levels in certain types of antioxidant agents.
For example, pinto beans contain the antioxidant kaempferol, which has been associated with reduced inflammation and a decline in cancerous tumor growth.
Animal studies conducted in a test-tube environment were published in Molecular Carcinogenesis and show kaempferol successfully suppresses the growth of cancer cells in the breast, lungs, bladder, and kidneys. Specifically, pinto beans also contain important vitamins and minerals thiamine, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Grapes do more than making good wine
Purple and red grapes are a good source of vitamins C and K, thiamine, and selenium, a mineral that according to the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, aids in maintaining a healthy immune system, optimal cognitive function, and normal thyroid level for proper metabolic function. Purple and red grapes are also high in antioxidants anthocyanin and proanthocyanin.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, proanthocyanidins are chemical compounds called polyphenols and give many fruits their bright hues of red, blue, and purple.
Polyphenols are more than just a color pigment as they are a subclass of flavonoids and help prevent the development and progression of heart disease and cancer.
Get healthy. Okey-doke artichoke
Artichokes are a vegetable dating back to ancient times when people used the leaves of the plant to treat jaundice and other liver conditions.
They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals like potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, and antioxidants, particularly chlorogenic acid.
Artichokes promote heart health as they increase healthy HDL cholesterol levels, help with liver function, and aid in digestive function and overall gut health.
While some vegetables lose their antioxidant level with cooking, artichokes are unique in that boiling or steaming them can increase their antioxidant content by eight times and 15 times, respectively, according to the American Chemical Society and printed in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Add some fall color to your diet year-round
Orange and yellow vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, and squash are great sources of vitamin A, minerals, and antioxidants that aid in preventing heart conditions and certain types of cancers. Orange and yellow vegetables also contain vitamins C and K, dietary fiber for improved digestive health, calcium, and iron.
As an example, a serving of raw carrots contains 73 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A in addition to other vitamins and minerals. Carrots help promote eye health and prevent eye disease and deterioration like macular degeneration.
Yellow squash, also known as summer squash, contains high levels of vitamins A, C, and B6, folate, or vitamin B9, magnesium, manganese, riboflavin, potassium, and phosphorus.
Squash also is high in dietary fiber for improved digestion and gut health. Manganese found in squash helps strengthen bones and the body’s metabolic ability to process carbohydrates and fat.
Yellow peppers are technically a fruit, but most people categorize them as a vegetable. They contain high levels of dietary fiber and folate, or vitamin B9, as well as vitamin K, which helps the body’s blood clotting function for healing.
Vitamin C found in yellow peppers boosts the immune system and blood oxygenation, which increases energy levels and prevents fatigue.
A single serving of pumpkin has more than 200 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A. Pumpkin also contains vitamin C to help boost the immune system and high levels of antioxidants.
While eating these yellow and orange vegetables in their raw form helps preserve their nutritional levels as cooking them can remove the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant levels, pumpkin is one vegetable that maintains its healthy components even when cooked.
Raw, juiced, or leafy, beets are the complete food
While not orange or yellow, another vegetable with high nutritional value is beets, also known as red beet, table beet, and garden beet. Beets are technically a root and are rich in dietary fiber, potassium, iron, vitamin C, and folate, or vitamin B9, as well as antioxidants betalains.
According to an article published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, betalains aid in a healthy digestive system and lower the risk of cancer in the colon as well as serve as an anti-inflammatory and help with arthritic pain.
Beets can be eaten in their root form as well as in juice form. Their leaves are known as beet greens and can also be eaten. Regardless of form, beetroot improves blood flow by widening the blood vessels and oxygenating the blood, thereby also improving blood pressure, energy levels, and exercise performance.
Beets can maintain their healthy vitamin and antioxidant levels in raw form as well as a cooked or pickled state. Beets come in a variety of colors, including yellow, white, pink, and purple, but all have these healthy characteristics and antioxidant benefits.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring in the body, but also can be manufactured in artificial form and taken as a supplement.
They are essential in neutralizing and fighting free radicals and the resulting oxidative stress caused by the build-up of free radicals.
Antioxidants help protect the body from harmful particles that can cause serious health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease that can lead to death.
Free radicals also cause cell damage that increases the signs of aging and can affect secondary conditions like weight gain and eye health and disease like macular degeneration.
Free radicals in the body can interfere with proper blood flow, blood vessel width, and blood oxygenation levels, which can, in turn, cause fatigue and take longer to recover and heal from strenuous activity and workouts.
The harmful effects of free radicals can affect people of all ages, races, and genders. They increase the signs of aging in appearance, as well as physical health and cognitive function.
Adding color to the diet through fruits, vegetables, leaf salads, and legumes, can provide not only a delicious array of foods but also increase the antioxidant levels in the blood and help ward off these health issues.