Antioxidants help your body fight battles every single day from stressors like disease, air pollution, and UV rays.
But how do you make sure you get antioxidants? And what do they actually do? Here are the deets on antioxidants.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances that help prevent or slow down cell damage caused by free radicals — unstable molecules your body creates naturally in response to everyday stresses.
You’ll find antioxidants in plant-based foods like fruits and veggies. You can even find them in chocolate, coffee, tea, and wine!
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:
- vitamin A
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
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
The antioxidant OGs
Seem like a long list? Just getting in your fruits and veggies should do the trick. But if you need a few easy antioxidant-rich foods to nosh on, start with:
Studies have shown that diets full of plant-powered antioxidant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes may reduce the risk of chronic disease often associated with oxidative stress.
Remember free radicals? They actually lead to oxidative stress, which damages your DNA, protein, and lipids — causing the cell damage antioxidants are meant to fight.
Antioxidants also help strengthen the immune system, which means you’re better prepared to fight harmful infections (hello flu season and COVID-19).
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.
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.
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.
Heads up: 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. When tomatoes are cooked, their lycopene content is much more potent than when eaten raw. (Spaghetti sauce for the win! 🍝). Cauliflower, zucchini, and peas lose antioxidants when boiled. But boiling and steaming can increase antioxidant power in veggies like artichoke.
Antioxidants are good for your overall health and help you fight oxidative stress brought on by those pesky free radicals.
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).