What would you do if you found out that you might have a silent killer inside you right now, wreaking havoc in your body, damaging your DNA, accelerating the effects of aging, and contributing to disease? Don’t freak out, but you probably do. That killer is called oxidative stress. The good news is that a powerful ally, antioxidants, can battle free radicals.
Read on for the best foods loaded with antioxidants to help fight free radicals, protect your heart, reduce oxidative stress, and restore balance to your body.
What is oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress is when the harmful free radicals in your body outnumber the beneficial antioxidants. While not all free radicals are nasty, they can become dangerous when their levels remain unchecked.
Free radicals are unstable molecules with unpaired electrons that come from biochemical reactions in the body and external sources such as pollution, food, water, alcohol, smoke, and radiation. When they build up, they can steal electrons of healthy cells (oxidation) and cause damage to DNA, cell membranes, and proteins.
What is an antioxidant?
You’ve likely heard the term antioxidant many times before, but do you know what it means? Antioxidant doesn’t refer to the name of a particular substance; instead, it describes what certain substances can do. Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body that cause oxidative damage.
Plant-based antioxidants are polyphenols that further divide into flavonoids, phenolic acids, anthocyanins, lignans, and stilbenes. Other antioxidants include carotenoids and certain vitamins.
Antioxidant foods that reduce oxidative stress
While taking steps to reduce oxidative stress such as quitting smoking, increasing exercise, and reducing chemical exposure are essential, it is also important to incorporate dietary antioxidants.
Remove processed foods from your diet and add these antioxidant-rich foods to fight free radicals and reverse oxidative stress:
Note: Always purchase organic to prevent consumption of dangerous herbicides and pesticides and to ensure quality produce. Fruit is naturally sweet — consume in moderation and when seasonally available.
Blueberries are the small yet mighty berry that could transform your life. These tiny, blue orbs may not look like much, but they pack a serious nutritional punch. Though they have many essential vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin K, C, and manganese, their high antioxidant capacity makes blueberries a true star.
How to eat more: Enjoy a handful of fresh blueberries as a snack or add them to your favorite grain-free cereal mix. You can also incorporate frozen blueberries into a smoothie or eat them as a yummy dessert.
Edible mushrooms are often overlooked in favor of more flashy foods, but this powerful fungus deserves a spot in your next meal. Many studies support mushrooms for their incredible antioxidant capabilities that help fight aging and boost overall health.
How to eat more: Mushrooms taste delicious in stir-fry and when incorporated into any yummy side dish. You can also place mushrooms in the food processor to finely chop them and mix them into the next dish you make with ground meat.
Goji berries aren’t as common as blueberries, but they have antioxidant levels to rival their more popular cousin. However, unlike blueberries, goji berries are small, red berries native to Asia. These berries have been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine.
Studies show that these goji contain beta-carotene, an essential antioxidant that protects skin from UV radiation-induced skin damage. Another study found that goji berries could help inhibit cancerous tumor growth and shield against the damaging effects of chemotherapy.
How to eat more: Finding goji berries can be a little tricky as they aren’t common in every grocery store. Visit your local health food store or go online to find dried goji berries that can be added to smoothies or enjoyed as a shelf-stable snack, perfect for outdoor activities. Many types of herbal tea also star goji berries and can be found online.
Red cabbage is loaded with essential nutrients and phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It also has high levels of vitamin C, which can help reduce cancer risk, cardiovascular disease, and repair body tissue.
How to eat more: Sauté cabbage in a skillet and eat as a yummy side, add raw red cabbage to a fresh salad, roast it in the oven with some healthy oil and spices, or shred it and whip up a homemade dressing to drizzle on top for a crunchy side salad.
Strawberries are a favorite fruit of many and are among the top three most consumed fruits in the United States. And with good reason! They are sweet, easy to grow in a home garden, and have surprising health benefits.
Strawberries, like other berries, are an excellent source of antioxidants and have been proven to help reduce oxidative stress in the brain and provide protection against oxidative damage. One cup of these delightful red berries also contains more vitamin C than an orange — another essential antioxidant.
How to eat more: Incorporating strawberries into your diet isn’t hard. Eat whole as a snack, add to a salad for a sweet and savory combination, or dehydrate them and add to a trail mix of heart-healthy nuts and seeds.
Tart and sweet cherries are high in polyphenols and flavonoids that can help fight cellular damage and reduce inflammation. Evidence shows that these benefits could extend to physical recovery for athletes in training situations.
How to eat more: Juice cherries or purchase pure cherry juice with no additives. Incorporate fresh or dried cherries into trail mix or use to top chia pudding. Cherries are also delicious by themselves or mixed into a smoothie.
Spinach and kale are two of the healthiest vegetables, packed with fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, and antioxidants. Quercetin and kaempferol, two essential antioxidant phytochemicals, have been found in high levels in kale and spinach and are beneficial for reducing oxidative stress in the body and fighting off harmful free radicals. Lettuce and collard greens can also be helpful.
How to eat more: There is controversy surrounding whether raw or cooked leafy greens are better for antioxidant delivery. One study suggests that raw greens had a higher vitamin C content, while cooked greens could have enhanced antioxidant capacity by increasing the bioaccessibility of these health-promoting compounds.
Either way, you will be getting excellent health benefits from leafy greens. Enjoy them raw in salads, lightly cook them in a healthy fat such as avocado oil for a delicious side, or freeze them and blend them into a smoothie.
Pecans, almonds, and walnuts
Healthy fats are in. And they’re here to stay. Now that the insanity of the low-fat craze is ending, the general populace is beginning to recognize how critical healthy fat is for a healthy body. After all, your body needs fat to function optimally.
Nuts are an excellent source of this fat and contain many antioxidants to help battle oxidative stress. One study showed that pecans could reduce harmfully oxidized low-density lipoproteins (LDL) by 26-33 percent in the blood. The potent antioxidants also impact unhealthy triglycerides that contribute to heart disease.
How to eat more: Adding nuts to your diet is as simple as enjoying a handful for a snack whenever you feel hungry between meals throughout the day. Be sure to buy raw or lightly roasted nuts without any added ingredients.
Artichokes probably aren’t the first vegetable on your mind when planning out your meals for the week. Though this veggie isn’t common in the modern American diet, people worldwide have enjoyed the yummy artichoke for thousands of years. It was even used as an ancient remedy for liver conditions. (Science has backed this up!)
If you are looking for a delicious, unique vegetable loaded with antioxidants, look no further. Artichokes are rich in a particular antioxidant known as chlorogenic acid that could help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
How to eat more: Don’t be intimidated by artichokes. Once you learn to cook them, you won’t be able to stop. Enjoy them as a side or mixed into your main dish.
How you prepare artichokes is important. Studies have shown that steaming artichokes increases antioxidant effectiveness by 15 times, while boiling increases it by eight. On the other hand, frying artichokes destroys much of the flavonoid concentration.
Ah, chocolate. If you’re a chocolate lover, this is likely good news. But before you down that Hershey’s bar, it is essential to identify what type of chocolate is beneficial. Good quality, pure, organic dark chocolate enjoyed in moderation can have health-promoting effects due to its high antioxidant content.
How to eat more: There are a few things to consider. The higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants your chocolate will contain. Always enjoy pure, raw dark chocolate with no added sugar and a cocoa concentration above 70 percent. Remember, moderation is key! A square or two a day should be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth and provide antioxidant benefits.
Other foods rich in antioxidants:
Making changes to your diet and lifestyle isn’t always easy, but it is worth it. These 19 foods (and other real, whole foods) have incredible benefits for your body and will help set you on a path of healing and stop oxidative damage in its tracks. After all, food is fuel and should be helping your body, not harming it. If you need extra antioxidant support, consider incorporating supplements such as Super C into your diet to help further reduce oxidative stress.
Here’s to your 100 Year Heart!
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD