We know there are foods that you should eat for better digestion, for your heart health, even to keep your blood sugar levels under control. We also know that the root cause of most diseases is caused by inflammation in the cells. So what can you do to protect your cells?
Cue: antioxidants. They’re found in plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, wine, chocolate, tea, and coffee. There are also different types – you might have heard of beta-carotene (in carrots), catechins (in tea), lycopene (in tomatoes), resveratrol (in wine) and flavonoids (in chocolate).
Antioxidants fight the free radicals (called oxidants, in case you missed that part) which are byproducts of the body’s cellular process. Take for example the nights you spend drinking – your liver will spend time detoxifying your body but if the number of antioxidants is lower than the number of free radicals in your body, oxidation will get you!
Remember that free radicals aren’t necessarily bad – your body creates them so fight off toxins, viruses, and bacteria. It only ever gets bad when you have too many of them that the body can’t fight off the negative effects of cigarette smoking, air pollution, and excessive drinking.
If you live in the Western part of the globe, chances are you mostly consume processed food, have a high exposure to an incredible amount of pollutants, and rely on some form of prescription medication.
Now, you might be thinking, no problem, I’ll just eat foods rich in antioxidants all the time! It’s not quite like that. Your body needs an equal amount of oxidants and antioxidants, which can dampen your body’s natural ability to turn on its self-sufficient defense system.
The number of antioxidants are measured with the oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) score. It looks at the capacity of plant-based foods to absorb and fight free radicals. You can generally get most of your body’s needed antioxidant supply through the food you eat, but in some instances wherein this isn’t possible (and by this we mean you’re not quite ready to give up fast food yet), supplements come in handy.
Here are some examples of foods rich in antioxidants:
Dark chocolate contains more cocoa than regular chocolate, which means it also has more antioxidants. It’s also long been linked to many impressive health benefits, like promoting heart health and reducing inflammation.
A review of studies done on the benefits of cocoa intake and blood pressure levels showed that consuming cocoa-rich products reduced the systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 4.5 mmHg and 2.5 mmHg, respectively.
It also prevents bad (LDL) cholesterol from being oxidized. In case you didn’t know, when LDL cholesterol gets oxidized, it inflames the blood vessels and increases your risk for heart disease.
In fact, every 100 grams of dark chocolate has up to 15 mmol of antioxidants compared to blueberries with 9.2 mmol and raspberries with 2.3 mmol per 100 grams.
Blueberries actually contain the highest amount of antioxidants out of all the most consumed fruits and vegetables. They’re also low in calories, so feel free to take another handful. Studies have also shown that the antioxidants in blueberries can slow down the progression of brain diseases and brain function decline.
Blueberries have a neutralizing effect on free radicals, and can actually change the expression of some genes while reducing inflammation in the body. Anthocyanins are the type of antioxidants found in blueberries and are linked to better heart health.
Pecans are not only a good source of minerals and healthy fats, they also have a great antioxidant content with up to 10.6 mmol per 100 grams.
A study on people who filled 20% of their daily calorie intake from pecans showed a significant increase in the number of antioxidants in their blood. In other cases, those who consume pecans found lower bad cholesterol levels within two to eight hours of eating them.
Raspberries are often used in desserts, but they’re actually very nutritious – it contains not just antioxidants, but dietary fiber, manganese, and vitamin C.
Due to the combination of the various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in raspberries, it’s actually been said to have an ability not just to keep heart disease at bay, but lower your risk of cancer as well.
A test tube study on breast, colon, and stomach cancer cells found that the antioxidant component of raspberries killed 90% of the sample cells. Black raspberries were also found to slow down the effects of different types of cancers.
Turmeric is also known as the antioxidant spice since its active compound curcumin can neutralize free radicals, thanks to its chemical structure. Additionally, curcumin also boosts the power of the antioxidants already present in your body!
Not only does curcumin function as a stimulant for your body’s antioxidant defenses, it also directly fights free radicals.