Antioxidants are compounds that are found in one’s body as well as in many fruits and vegetables. Their chief functions include protecting our body’s cells from free radical damage. This, in turn, prevents premature aging and various chronic diseases. In fact, if the levels of free radicals in one’s body go unchecked, these unstable molecules can accumulate, thereby inducing a state known as oxidative stress. It can potentially wreak havoc on one’s DNA and other structures of cells, thereby increasing the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and severe heart disease. Interestingly, one of the means to measure the levels of antioxidant content in foods is the FRAP (Ferric Reducing Ability of Plasma) Test. The higher the FRAP value, the better it is.
Types of antioxidants and how they work
The most appropriate way to classify antioxidants is to understand whether they are water-soluble, fat-soluble or both fat and water-soluble. Those that are water-soluble work to fight with the free radicals present in the blood plasma. Fat-soluble ones fight the free radicals present in the cell membrane. Antioxidants are present in certain vitamins and minerals so consuming these on a regular basis can prove to be highly fruitful. Vitamins A, E, K, and C, copper, zinc, iodine, and manganese are rich sources of antioxidants. Certain proteins like glutathione and alpha lipoic acid also contain them. Phytochemicals like quercetin, lycopene, carotenoids, zeaxanthin, ellagic acid, flavonoids, and lutein also have good amounts of antioxidants in them. Additionally, some hormones, like melatonin, also exhibit antioxidant-like properties.
All these work either by stopping the oxidative process before it starts (preventive action) while others are neutralizing the effect of the free radicals (chain breaking action). Those antioxidants that work in either of these two processes are known as Direct Antioxidants since they engage indirectly working on free radicals.
It is essential to understand the health benefits of an antioxidant-rich diet. Maintaining a high level of antioxidants in your blood helps reduce the risk of oxidative damage. As a result, one can prevent the risk of chronic diseases related to cancer, heart, and diabetes. They also help boost one’s brain function, keep one’s eyes, skin, and hair healthy and also aids better lung functioning. The best way to incorporate antioxidants in your diet is to consume seasonal food.
Apart from natural dietary means, antioxidant supplements are also available in the market. The consumption of these supplements need not be as successful for humans as they were in trials for animals, according to research. In fact, the results of death and disease prevention have been quite disappointing in humans. Furthermore, some of these supplements are detrimental to one’s health. Large doses of Vitamin A can lead to defects in women at the time of childbirth. They are also known to increase the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to that, consumption of too much Vitamin E has been associated with a potential increase in overall death rate. Ideally, one must consult a physician before taking any supplements.
There are a number of foods that are rich in antioxidants, but we present to you some of the most useful foods, that contain high doses of antioxidants. Do try to include these in your daily diets to obtain the goodness of antioxidants.
1. Green tea
Green tea contains 30 percent polyphenols, by weight. This includes large amounts of a catechin called EGCG. These natural antioxidants prevent cell damage, amongst other benefits. In addition to that, they have a protective effect against oxidative damage that contributes to the development of cancer. Green tea, being an excellent source of powerful antioxidants, can help reduce the risk of cancer.
According to several studies, blueberries contain the highest amounts of antioxidants amongst all common fruits and vegetables. They have up to 9.2 mmol(millimoles) per 100 grams of the product. Some of the health benefits of consuming blueberries include prevention of brain damage that occurs in old age, reducing blood pressure, lowering low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels as well as decreasing the risk of certain heart diseases. All this is possible due to a type of antioxidant called anthocyanin that is present in blueberries.
Strawberries consist of high amounts of Vitamin C and antioxidants. Like blueberries, they too contain reasonable levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin. It is rarely found in other food items. The brighter red a strawberry is, the higher would be the anthocyanin levels. A FRAP analysis suggests that strawberries have 5.4 mmol per 100 grams of it. Do include this fruit in your diet for it reduces LDL cholesterol levels as well as the risk of severe heart problems.
Often doctors recommend intake of beans to patients owing to its high nutritional value. They are incredibly high in fiber, and amongst vegetables, they are the best source of antioxidants. An antioxidant called kaempferol is found in considerable amounts in beans which aids in the prevention of cancer and chronic inflammation. Various animal studies have found that kaempferol suppresses the growth of kidneys, bladder and lung cancer. A bonus of eating beans is that it helps to regulate bowel movements as well.
5. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains 15 mmol of antioxidants in every 100 g. It is amongst the highest amounts of antioxidants present in various fruits and vegetables. Since it contains more cocoa, eating dark chocolate also reduces inflammation, regulates blood pressure and lowers the risk of numerous heart diseases. Additionally, its consumption also raises HDL cholesterol levels. It also prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. So, eat a little dark chocolate every day. It will certainly satisfy your taste buds and offer many health benefits too!
While spinach may not be a universal favourite, its health benefits can change your mind. Spinach has good amounts of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins along with being low in calories. Those with poor eyesight should consume this vegetable daily as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin protect one’s eyes from UV light and other damaging light wavelengths.
Commonly found in South America and Mexico, pecans are a great source of minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. These nuts have 10.6 mmol of antioxidants per 100 grams of serving. Eating pecans significantly increase antioxidant levels in the blood thereby decreasing oxidized LDL. As a result, intake of pecans can prevent many heart diseases; however, since they are high in calories, one should eat them in moderation.
Artichokes were used to treat jaundice and some liver conditions in ancient times. They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. A unique antioxidant, namely chlorogenic acid, is present in artichoke. This effectively hampers the growth of cancer, heart problems, and Type 2 diabetes. Although, one should pay attention to the way they cook or prepare artichokes. It’s ideal that they are boiled or steamed as the former raises antioxidant content by 15 times and the latter by 8 times.
Kale is rich in Vitamins A, C, and K, and provides antioxidant content up to 2.7 mmol per 100 grams. If possible, include red varieties of kale in your diet as the antioxidant content is higher (4.1 mmol) in them. Along with maintaining sound cellular functions, kale is a good plant-based source of calcium as well. Thus, higher kale intake fosters good bone health.
10. Red Cabbage
Also known as purple cabbage, red cabbage includes Vitamins A, C, K and quite high levels of antioxidants. The presence of anthocyanin in red cabbage enables it to reduce inflammation, reduce risk of various heart diseases and cancer. Vitamin C serves as one of the major antioxidants for the body. Thus, eating red cabbage also strengthens the immune system and paves the way for healthy, glowing skin. Interestingly, steaming this vegetable can decrease its antioxidant level by 35% whereas steaming or stir-frying boosts these levels.
Eat the above-mentioned foods, and you won’t have to rely on antioxidant dietary supplements ever. Remember to include colourful fruits and vegetables, that are rich in antioxidants, in your diet. The inclusion of these in your diet can fulfill the requirement of antioxidants in the body.