Adding foods high in antioxidant to your diet can make you feel and perform better by strengthening your immune system and slowing the aging process. Additionally, antioxidants have been shown to have a therapeutic effect on mood, which can allow you to lead a happier and more balanced lifestyle. Are you getting enough antioxidants from the food you eat?
Read on to get all the information you need to supplement your diet with antioxidants during every meal. You will learn how to quickly and easily incorporate them into your daily dietary routine by knowing which of the more commonly eaten foods to target. Fruits, vegetables, and meats are all important sources of antioxidants. Let’s have a look at the basic definition and function of an antioxidant, as well as some of the most common types and where to find them.
What Are Antioxidants?
Generally speaking, antioxidants are compounds that prevent damage to cells in your body by inhibiting oxidation and preventing the production of free radicals. Free radicals are atoms and molecules that can harm your body by altering the natural progression of biochemical reactions and preventing cellular repair.
The “oxidative stress” caused by free radical buildup can accelerate the aging process.
Specifically, free radicals make us more susceptible to the development of diseases such as:
- Cancer – All types
- Hypertension, Heart Attack, & Stroke
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Asthma and Emphysema
- Inflammatory Diseases like Lupus, Colitis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – See
- Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders
- Macular Degeneration
- Anxiety and Depression
- Fatigue: For more information see Chronic Fatigue Causes – Find The Energy You’ve Been Missing!
Antioxidants are found in many of the foods we eat but predominantly in fruits, vegetables, and meats. They can be broken down into the following categories:
- Vitamins – Especially A, C, & E
- Minerals – Manganese (which forms superoxide dismutase or SOD), Zinc, Copper, Selenium, and Iodine
- Carotene – Alpha & Beta carotene, Lutein, and Lycopene
- Flavanoids ( A type of polyphenol)
- Enzymes & Co-enzymes – Co-Enzyme Q10
- Hormones (Melatonin)
Here is Wikipedia’s list of antioxidants.
However, not all antioxidants are naturally found in the foods we typically eat. Here is a breakdown of some of the most commonly eaten foods high in antioxidants.
Fruits can be an excellent source of “portable antioxidants” because they can be eaten without time-intensive preparation and are convenient to eat “on-the-run”. Many people, especially children, are more likely to add additional fruits to their diet than vegetables. These foods are typically lower in sodium and potassium, which can be beneficial in people with heart and kidney problems. Fruits are also a healthy source of carbohydrates (fructose), especially for people with metabolic disorders like diabetes.
Examples of fruits with antioxidant activity include:
- Mangoes Peaches, Apricots, Cantaloupe, and Tomatoes – Vitamin A
- Oranges, Strawberries, and Blueberries – Vitamin C
- Kiwi, Avocados, Blackberries, and Cranberries (dried) – Vitamin E
- Raspberries, Plums, and Pomegranates – Polyphenols (large branched-chain organic molecules)
Eat Your Veggies
The US Department of Agriculture recommends a daily vegetable consumption of one to four cups. Vegetables are generally under-consumed in many areas of the world. Veggies get a bad rap, especially among children and meat-eaters, as the part of the meal that is “totally optional”. In point of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In addition to being a major component of the fiber in our diet (think carrots, beets, and broccoli), vegetables play an important role in promoting digestive health. Properly prepared, vegetables can become a delicious and enticing part of any meal.
Examples of antioxidant-rich vegetables are:
- Squash, Broccoli, Sweet Potatoes, and Kale – Vitamin A
- Green Peppers, Broccoli, and Cabbage – Vitamin C
- Leafy Green Vegetables, Nuts, Seeds, and Whole Grains – Vitamin E, and Lutein (in leafy greens)
- Carrots, Spinach, and Beans – Carotene
- Parsley, Basil, Garlic, Onion, and Spices such as Pepper, Oregano, Sage, Thyme, Clove, and Cinnamon – Polyphenols
- Nuts – Manganese, Copper, and Zinc
Healthy “Heart-Friendly” Meats
Seafood predominantly comprises the fish and shellfish categories.
Fish – Manganese, Copper, Selenium, and Zinc
Shellfish – Manganese, Copper, Zinc, and Iodine.
The following shellfish contain iodine, which is a common source of seafood allergy:
- Clams, Mussels, Scallops, and Oysters
- Crab and Lobster
- Shrimp and Prawn
Lean meats – Manganese, Copper, and Zinc
- Chicken and Turkey
- Pork, Veal, and Lamb
- Low Fat Beef (90% meat/10% fat)
Milk is an animal byproduct that contains Vitamin A, Flavinoids, Manganese, Copper, and Zinc.
Dark Chocolate – The Healthy Treat
If you are a chocolate lover then your best bet is to “go dark”, since dark chocolate contains a variety of flavinoids (specifically flavinols) and other polyphenols, as well as zinc. Chocolate that has a 70% or higher cocoa content is the richest in antioxidants but is also more bitter-tasting and has a higher caffeine content. At the same cocoa content, the price and quality of the chocolate has very little to do with its type and amount of antioxidants, unless they are added artificially. Although milk is a good source of antioxidants its important to note that milk chocolate takes second place behind the dark variety.
Summing It All Up
The importance of a well-balanced and nutritious meal cannot be overemphasized. Antioxidants play a key role in keeping the body healthy by preventing cellular damage and can reduce the effect of the aging process on tissues and organs. Vitamins play an important role in the regulation of numerous biochemical reactions in our body and some have antioxidant activity as well.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamins set forth by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences is coming under scrutiny by several nutritional organizations as being set too low for many categories of vitamins and minerals. This highlights the importance of augmenting dietary supplements, like multivitamins, with foods that are naturally rich in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are found in numerous fruits, vegetables, and meats. Good meal planning can provide a large variety of essential antioxidants, although not all antioxidants are found in the foods we typically eat. Meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans will need to define meal plan strategies that best address their various dietary lifestyles. Learning which antioxidants are present in the foods you eat most frequently can be extremely helpful in this regard. Dietitians can provide excellent guidance for special needs individuals, such as those with diabetes and high cholesterol problems.
Tell Us What You Think!
Please let us know what’s on your mind in the comment section.
- Do you have any important tips or suggestions?
- How are you adding antioxidants to your diet?
- What health benefits have you noticed?