Antioxidants are very important to your overall health and well being. Consuming a generous amount in your diet is a great way to help boost your intake. There are also supplements available that contain large amounts of antioxidants so you can know exactly what amount you are consuming.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are free radical scavengers, meaning they prevent or slow damage caused to cells in the body. The body produces unstable molecules (free radicals) as a response to the environment and other pressures. Antioxidants can be artificial or natural, and certain plant-based foods contain measurable levels of antioxidants. The body also produces antioxidants on its own. As the body processes food and reacts to its environment, the cells produce waste substances called free radicals. If the body cannot clear these effectively, oxidative stress can occur, which harms body function and cells.
Oxidative stress has been discovered to be linked to stroke, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, immune deficiency, and other diseases and inflammatory conditions. Some factors that contribute to oxidative stress include excessive exercise, mitochondrial activity, smoking, radiation, environmental pollution, and exposure to chemicals. It’s thought that the free radicals cause a change in cells that can lead to disease. Consuming antioxidants is thought to help reduce that risk.
Where Are Antioxidants Found?
Antioxidants are found in abundance in plant foods. Fruits and vegetables contain the highest amounts of antioxidants, as well as nuts, whole grains, and some meat, poultry, and fish. Foods that are good sources of specific antioxidants include:
- Vitamin A (sweet potatoes, liver, milk, carrots, and egg yolks)
- Vitamin C (kiwi, broccoli, oranges, mangoes, spinach, and strawberries)
- Vitamin E (avocadoes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains)
- Copper (seafood, milk, nuts, and lean meat)
- Beta-carotene (apricots, carrots, spinach, mangoes, and parsley)
- Lycopene (tomatoes, grapefruit and watermelon)
- Allium sulfur compounds (garlic, leeks, and onions)
- Catechins (tea and red wine)
- Flavonoids (green tea, citrus fruits, onions, red wine, apples, tea)
- Indoles (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables)
- Isoflavonoids (peas, soybeans, tofu, and lentils)
- Lignans (bran, sesame seeds, vegetables, and whole grains)
- Manganese (milk, nuts, lean meat, and seafood)
- Polyphenols (oregano and thyme)
- Selenium (offal meats, lean meat, whole grains, and seafood)
Research shows that it’s more beneficial to get antioxidants from whole food sources. A well-balanced diet containing plenty of antioxidants is a great way to up your intake. There are supplements available that contain antioxidants, but be sure to consult with a medical professional before taking a supplement.
Can Antioxidants Be Harmful?
Unless you are consuming an extremely large quantity of food or taking a lot of supplements, you probably aren’t going to notice any harm from consuming antioxidants. An adequate consumption of antioxidants is crucial to good health, but more is not necessarily better in this case. An excessive intake of isolated antioxidants can damage your health, have toxic effects, and may promote oxidative damage instead of preventing it. High doses of antioxidant supplements may even increase your risk of death.
Eating whole foods that contain antioxidants is much safer than consuming large quantities of supplements. The antioxidants are much more naturally balanced than supplements when you eat whole foods. Foods naturally reduce oxidative damage much better than supplements as well. If you have a known vitamin or mineral deficiency, it may be wise to take a low-dose multivitamin while you work on optimizing your diet.
Top Fruits With Antioxidants
There are many fruits with antioxidants, which is wonderful for people that want to increase their consumption of antioxidants through their diets. Not only are fruits packed full of antioxidants, but they are chock full of flavor as well. Fruits may not only help increase antioxidants in the body, but may also provide other benefits like lowering cholesterol. What fruits are high in antioxidants?
- Blueberries - Blueberries are high in antioxidants and nutrients but low in calories. Some studies have shown that blueberries may contain the highest amount of antioxidants of all the fruits, and they may help prevent the decline in cognitive function as people age. The antioxidants in blueberries may help lower inflammation while reducing risk factors for heart disease while lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Strawberries - Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits, and for good reason. The type of antioxidants that are found in strawberries may help reduce the risk of heart disease by raising good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol.
- Goji berries - Goji berries are popular in traditional Chinese medicine and come from the flowering parts of two plants. They are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are often referred to as a superfood. Not only may they reduce the risk of cancer, but they also may help prevent skin aging.
- Raspberries - Raspberries contain generous levels of fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, manganese, and minerals. They may help lower inflammation and oxidative stress.
These fruits aren’t the only ones high in antioxidants, as almost all fruits contain them. Cherries, grapes, cranberries, pears, guava, watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, apricots, and mangoes are all packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Don’t discount dried fruits- with the water removed the antioxidant ratio is actually higher in dried fruits versus fresh. They are versatile and make excellent snacks for on the go.
Top Vegetables with Antioxidants
While all vegetables contain amounts of antioxidants, some have higher levels. Which vegetables have high levels of antioxidants?
- Artichokes - Artichokes are low in fat, high in fiber, and contain one of the highest levels of antioxidants. They also include a generous amount of phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.
- Kale - Leafy green vegetables are high in antioxidants, and kale is not excluded. Kale contains beta-carotene and vitamin C as well as polyphenols and various flavonoids. In addition to its excellent nutritional profile, kale may also help improve digestion.
- Cauliflower - Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower contain indole-3-carbinol, a potent antioxidant. Cauliflower is also surprisingly high in vitamin C.
- Bell pepper - Bell peppers contain different antioxidants, including quercetin, lutein, and capsanthin. They are also low in calories and high in vitamin C, making them a healthy snack choice.
Sweet potatoes, various squash, pumpkin, collard greens, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, carrots, and potatoes are also high in antioxidants. Eating a large amount of vegetables is not going to be dangerous to your health, so you can enjoy a variety of vegetables while increasing your intake of antioxidants.
What are Natural Antioxidants?
The body naturally produces antioxidants called endogenous antioxidants. There are also natural antioxidants that are present in plants. Polyphenols are found in large concentrations in plant compounds that provide antioxidant benefits. They provide benefits to the body such as anti-cancer, anti-mutagenicity, anti-allergen, and anti-aging. In the sources of natural antioxidants, the most important are those coming from routinely consuming vegetables and fruits.
Why Are Antioxidants Important To The Body?
As a result of daily life, we are exposed to many different toxins through our food, water and air. Free radicals are compounds that can begin to cause harm if their levels start to become elevated in your body. Antioxidants are the molecules that help combat free radicals in your body. Your body naturally has its own antioxidant defenses to help keep free radicals in check, but consuming antioxidants in food can be very helpful in helping to decrease the amount of free radicals in your body.
Free radicals are constantly being accumulated in your body, and without antioxidants, they could cause serious harm very quickly, which would eventually result in death. As an example, your immune cells utilize free radicals to fight infections, and your body needs to maintain a certain balance of antioxidants and free radicals. When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, it can lead to oxidative stress, and prolonged oxidative stress can lead to disease.
What Are The Benefits of An Antioxidant Rich Diet?
Eating an antioxidant-rich diet can be the safest way to increase the amount of antioxidants your body has. Eating “the rainbow” helps ensure that you have a wide variety of naturally occurring antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Making sure you have a fruit or vegetable at every meal can help you get the amount of antioxidants your body needs, helping it to fight off disease.