The Health Benefits of Antioxidants

The Health Benefits of Antioxidants

February 01, 2022

Most people understand the health benefits of consuming a variety of vitamins and minerals, but many are less aware of the benefits of antioxidants and how they should be an integral part of our daily diet.

Antioxidants are substances that scavenge free radicals and protect your cells against damage. Free radicals are molecules formed when you exercise and when your body converts food to energy. Your body can also be exposed to free radicals by environmental sources: cigarette smoke, air pollution, and even sunlight. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress, a disturbance in the balance between reactive oxygen substances and antioxidant defense mechanisms. This may play a role in cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and Alzheimer's.

Antioxidants can be man-made (for example in supplements) or natural in many fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants because they contain vitamin C, E, selenium, and carotenoids (betacarotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin). These are all antioxidant nutrients.

Here is a list of foods high in antioxidants you may benefit from including in your diet:

1) Berries: rich in anthocyanins. Blueberries are one of the highest sources of antioxidants. Add them to yogurt and other fruit with ground flaxseed, in a fruit smoothie, or in homemade whole grain muffins.

2) Kale and Spinach: high in vitamins A, K, C, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Kale varieties that are richer in color provide the highest antioxidant content. Lutein and zeaxanthin in spinach may help prevent eye damage from UV light. Kale and/or spinach salads are always an easy addition to a meal or crisp kale leaves in the oven for a nutritious snack.

3) Legumes or dried beans: high in a particular antioxidant called kaempferol which some studies have shown may suppress the growth of certain cancers. Legumes are a great, inexpensive source of plant-based protein. You don't need to eat a big plate of beans to get the benefit. Just add rinsed canned beans to salads, soups, and casseroles. During these cold winter months, chili loaded with black beans can be a great comfort food.

4) Turmeric/curcumin: Turmeric and cumin are key spices in Indian and middle eastern dishes. Curcumin is the predominant active ingredient in turmeric which possesses rich anti-inflammatory effects and is a strong antioxidant. The amount of curcumin by weight in turmeric is relatively low so this is an example of where a supplement may be more beneficial. Curcumin is not absorbed by the body very well unfortunately so a way to improve its bioavailability is to look for a supplement with piperine (an ingredient in black pepper.) Also, take it with a meal high in fat because it breaks down the compound more efficiently. As for food, curry is a great way to add some curcumin to your diet.

pieces of dark chocolate

5) Dark chocolate: dark chocolate and cocoa are rich in antioxidants and have beneficial anti-inflammatory effects. Some studies have shown that dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure. The higher the cocoa content translates to darker chocolate and more beneficial antioxidant substances.

Check out this artisan chocolate purveyor who offers a variety of “clean” dark chocolate selections and some even sugar free. Some discounts will be offered later in February to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Heart Month so take advantage. They also make great gifts. 

One way to determine if your diet is low in antioxidants or to evaluate the antioxidant status in your body is to complete micronutrient testing. Not only does this test give you levels of individual antioxidants but it also gives you an overall antioxidant index. This can help customize your diet and supplement plan. Excessive intake of antioxidants is not beneficial and can be harmful, so it's better to take in only what your body needs.

Contact FitLIfe today to set up a micronutrient status profile.

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Diet and Nutrients , Dietary Supplements, Blog