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While antioxidants may be nothing new, understanding their importance and how to get more of them into your body is on the rise due to the recent virus. In this article, we take a look at what antioxidants are, their benefits, and the best antioxidant foods and lifestyle tips to boost your health.
To better understand antioxidants, let's start with free radicals. Simply, free radicals are unstable atoms and molecules that can cause damage to cell membranes, cause disease and aging. They attack healthy cells and cause oxidative stress. This eventually overloads your system and can cause chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
The Cause of Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress happens in our bodies when we are overloaded with free radicals. These potentially dangerous compounds are found inside our bodies, but they are also found in the environment, foods, and chemicals we use daily.
Some typical sources include:
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Air pollution
- Bacteria, fungus, and viruses
Our bodies can also experience oxidative stress from:
- Low or high oxygen level
- High blood pressure
- Overuse of antioxidant vitamins
- Too much iron, magnesium, copper, or zinc
- Excessive sun exposure
Antioxidants Fight Free Radicals
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals and prevent them from damaging cells. Our bodies naturally produce antioxidants, and we can increase the levels of antioxidants through nutrition (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) and supplements.
You can help your body build up antioxidants by choosing whole foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, Selenium, and Beta-carotene.
The Best Antioxidant Foods
Many fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants. The deeper, darker fruits, berries, and veggies are at the top of the list. In fact, the more colorful your diet the better. Be sure to consume as many fruits and veggies with their skin when possible as the skin contains concentrations of good-for-you antioxidants.
Here are examples of the rainbow of foods rich in antioxidants:
Dark Green Vegetables
Veggies like spinach and broccoli are some of the best antioxidant-rich foods. So are kale, leeks, and varieties of lettuce.
Bright Orange and Yellow Vegetables
Foods like sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots have plenty of antioxidant benefits. Replacing russet potatoes with sweet potatoes can easily boost antioxidant intake as well as snacking on raw carrots during the day.
Dark Red or Purple Berries and Grapes
Deep-colored berries and grapes, including blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, are antioxidant powerhouses. That’s why red wine is promoted as an antioxidant beverage as well.
Seeds, Nuts, and Chocolate
Nuts offer benefits you won’t find in leafy green plants. There are a wide variety of nuts and each offers unique vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fatty acids as well as antioxidants.
Adding nuts and seeds as a snack or using them as a meal replacement is a great way to get more antioxidants into your diet throughout the day. Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, pecans, and walnuts are all antioxidant-rich!
If it's easier for you to go the snack bar route, look for CORE Bars, which have low-sugar and antioxidant-rich ingredients like dark chocolate, chia seeds, and cherries.
Dark chocolate is full of antioxidant compounds and has been found to be one of the best at overpowering free radicals. Enjoying an ounce of 70% cacao or above each day can be a sweet and delicious way to protect your body.
Spices are not only necessary for great flavor, but they are also an excellent source of antioxidants. Rosemary, thyme, turmeric, cinnamon all contain potent polyphenol antioxidants for an extra health boost.
Did You Know?
Some foods increase their antioxidant benefits by being cooked while others offer more benefits raw. A simple Google search can help you identify the best ways to prepare and consume foods for their optimal benefit.
Also, fresh foods begin to lose their antioxidant benefits when they spoil. Eating fresh fruits and veggies while they are at their peak is important to get the most benefit.
One of the easiest and best-tasting ways to improve the antioxidant levels in your body is to consume fruits, veggies, nuts, and chocolate. Adding them to your daily diet can help fight disease with ease while tasting amazing.
Antioxidant beverages not only help fight free radicals but also help reduce inflammation and boost your immune system. That’s because many of the beverages that fight oxidative stress are packed with healthy vitamins and water, which is vital for our health. When choosing a beverage for antioxidant benefits, be sure to look at the other benefits it may have.
Cold Pressed Juices Pack a Punch
Cold-pressed juices retain more of their vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than regular juice. You can readily find cold-pressed juices at the grocer, in specialty shops, or make them at home. You can find all kinds of recipes for cold-pressed juices on platforms like Pinterest to help make juicing tasty and nutritionally beneficial. Juices like cherry and pomegranate have some of the highest antioxidant values.
Coffee and Tea Are Great Sources of Antioxidants
Coffee and tea are mainstays in most diets. Whether you like yours hot or cold, there is a variety sure to please.
Green tea is widely known for its antioxidant benefits, but coffee may actually be superior to tea depending on what variety you choose. It’s easy to find tea blends that offer a wide variety of antioxidant-rich benefits.
Adding ingredients like lemongrass, cinnamon, and other spices can boost the benefits and taste.
Infused Water Takes Things to the Next Level
Hands down, water is best for our bodies, but water that’s naturally infused with antioxidants makes great sense.
Coconut water has more antioxidants than some foods, which makes it a hydrating antioxidant first choice.
You can easily infuse water at home with your favorite fruits and veggies (think yummy cucumber and strawberries) to naturally boost your H20 intake and the marketplace is flooded with infused designer waters that help you hydrate and fight disease at the same time.
Fight Free Radicals with these Lifestyle Hacks
Here are some great lifestyle hacks to help you boost your antioxidants and health with ease.
Meal Plan and Prep or Get a Meal Subscription
Part of adulting is planning dinner every day for the rest of your life. That’s a lot of dinners.
Without proper planning, it’s easy to rely on grab-n-go foods that are high in salt, fat, and sugar. Even some of our “home-cooked” favorites are actually mightily unhealthy when you break down their ingredients. One of the safest and easiest ways to be certain your diet is rich in antioxidants is to plan your meals.
Meal planning can help you shop once for healthy antioxidant-rich foods and prep them for the week. This way you can choose a better grab-n-go meal from your fridge rather than a drive-thru.
If you don’t have the time, energy, or expertise to create healthy meals, you may want to sign up for a healthy meal subscription plan where you choose from a variety of healthy recipes and they are delivered to your door.
Get Good at Identifying Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Once you know which foods have the highest antioxidant benefits, it’s easy to spot them when you’re on the go. Juices made from dark-colored berries, dried fruit and nuts, and easy-to-snack-on colorful veggies are all high in antioxidants. Look for them when you are at a convenience store or make snacks based on their antioxidant benefits.
Some ideas can include:
- Making PB&J sandwiches from a variety of nut butters and homemade or organic jam
- Combine carrot sticks, berries, nuts, and chocolate for an antioxidant snack plate
- Enjoy 2oz of red wine and 1oz of dark chocolate as a decadent antioxidant dessert
Shop the Perimeter of the Store
You won’t find antioxidant foods in the middle of the grocery store. That's because plants are the best source of antioxidants – the fresher the better!
Most grocery stores offer their healthiest foods on the perimeter. That’s where you’ll find the produce, dairy, meat, and bakery. You can easily find antioxidant foods in each section.
Fresh fruits and veggies in the produce section, nuts and seeds found in multi-grain bread in the bakery, grain-fed meats in the butcher dept., and organic eggs in the dairy case all provide antioxidant benefits.
Tips to Easily Boost Your Daily Intake of Antioxidants
It’s easier than you may realize to boost your daily intake of antioxidants when you think small and consistently.
Here are some great tips!
Tip #1: Keep your pantry stocked – It’s easier to eat antioxidant-rich foods when they are readily available. Create a master list of foods that have the highest antioxidant benefits as well as other good-for-you foods. Use this list as a guide when you hit the store or shop online. You can print one from your computer or keep a master note on your smartphone. This can help ensure you don’t leave important foods behind when you leave the market.
Tip #2: A little goes a long way – You don’t have to eat pounds of broccoli or drink gallons of coconut water for antioxidant benefits. Actually, all you need is about 2oz increments of antioxidant-rich foods at a time. It’s simple to add a handful of berries to your morning cereal, enjoy a tasty coffee or tea beverage, or sip on a glass of merlot. You can easily create an antioxidant salad by combining leafy greens, nuts, carrots, and other raw cruciferous veggies. Remember, a little bit goes a long way.
Tip #3: Keep the skin on your fruits and veggies – Whenever possible, leave the skin on your whole foods. The highest concentration of antioxidants is often in the edible peel of whole foods. Leaving foods unpeeled can boost your intake with every serving. A great way to get more unpeeled foods is to make smoothies with your favorite fruits and veggies. Since they are blended, the consistency is very pleasing, even to picky eaters.
Tip #4: When you don’t have access to fresh, use powders and supplements – Sometimes you don’t have the same access to antioxidant foods and beverages. When you travel it may be harder to keep a stocked pantry or access whole foods. It’s great to have supplements or powders on hand in a pinch. While supplements aren’t the first choice for adding antioxidants, they can be quite useful.
Here are our picks for the best antioxidants on the market:
Getting plenty of antioxidant benefits from your foods is easier when you use these tips. From leaving your foods whole to supplementing with powders, there are plenty of ways to boost your daily intake of antioxidants.