Your body is fighting battles every single day. Disease, air pollution, UV rays — it’s got a hard job. But what’s helping your body fight off these stressors? Enter antioxidants.
Antioxidants help prevent or slow down cell damage caused by free radicals — unstable molecules your body creates naturally in response to everyday stresses.
So how do ya get the good stuff? Your body can make some antioxidants on its own, but you need to get the majority from foods.
Fighting free radicals is the main job of antioxidants, which is a big benefit since free radicals lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is what damages your DNA, protein, and lipids, causing cell damage.
Oxidative stress is bad, and is linked to atherosclerosis, cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
Antioxidants are good for you and help you fight those pesky free radicals. But, there just isn’t enough solid research to prove taking in a high amount of antioxidants will prevent cancer or other major chronic illnesses.
There are thousands of nutrients and vitamins that act as antioxidants, but they all have their own unique power.
In fact, it’s often the synergistic effect of multiple antioxidant sources that helps make them so powerful.So, you’ll get a bigger health benefit from getting different antioxidants that work together.
Here are some of the most recognizable antioxidants you’ll find:
Plant foods are hands down the best sources of antioxidants. And the more colorful your diet, the more antioxidants you’re likely getting. Here are some of the antioxidant foods that top our list:
Vitamin A: dairy products, eggs, liver
Vitamin C: dark leafy greens (kale, broccoli, collard, beet and mustard greens), brussels sprouts, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, strawberries, cauliflower, kiwi, oranges, grapefruit
Vitamin E: nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds), avocado, swiss chard, other dark leafy greens (mustard, beet, turnip, and boiled spinach), red peppers
Beta-carotene: cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, oranges, bell peppers, beets, broccoli, kale, collard greens
Lycopene: tomatoes, red peppers, grapefruit, guava, watermelon
Lutein: leafy greens, corn, oranges, papaya
Polyphenols: grapes, green tea, berries like blueberries and strawberries, apples, onions, red wine
Selenium: Brazil nuts, grains like brown rice and barley, fish and shellfish, legumes, cheese, eggs
A food’s antioxidant content can increase or decrease significantly depending how they’re cooked. Eating a mix of cooked and raw plant foods is key.
But, cauliflower, zucchini, and peas lose antioxidants when boiled.
Antioxidants run rampant in plant foods and it’s not difficult to get plenty throughout the day. Here are a few tips to get the most out of antioxidants:
Eat the rainbow. Literally. Include fruits and vegetables, in all sorts of colors, into meals and snacks to be sure you’re getting all the goods.
Spice things up. Use herbs and spices to flavor food instead of salt. Turmeric, ginger, cumin, and cinnamon in particular are rich sources of antioxidants.
Get some green in the afternoon. Swap out the 3 p.m. Americano for a matcha latte — matcha green tea is filled with antioxidant goodness.
Go nuts at breakfast. Add walnuts, brazil nuts, or cashews to overnight oats. Or make a yogurt parfait by layering plain Greek yogurt, blueberries, and nuts topped off with some cinnamon for an antioxidant-packed morning.
Add beets. Roasted beets are more versatile than you think and a great source of antioxidants. Beets are a great addition to salads, grain bowls, and smoothies. And if you’re feeling motivated, beet chips make a great afternoon snack.
Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? When it comes to antioxidant supplements, the answer is maybe.
Studies of high dose antioxidant supplements have yet to show any worthwhile success or benefits. In fact, some high dose antioxidants have proven harmful in certain populations.
Product integrity should also be taken into account when considering any supplement. While the FDA does regulate the supplement industry, manufacturers are in charge of testing for safety and marketing them correctly.
If you do decide to go down the supplement route, always check with your doctor first and be sure to choose a product that has been vetted by a third party organization like NSF International or the U.S. Pharmacopeia.
There’s no denying that antioxidants are seriously important to help keep us healthy.
Including lots of whole foods into your daily routine is the best way to maximize your intake. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices are your BFF (best food friends).