Everyone knows eating high antioxidant food is good for you, but how exactly do antioxidants benefit our health? The short answer is high antioxidant food counteracts oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to fine lines and cell damage, but it more infamously causes a wide array of serious diseases: diabetes, heart disease, depression, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and cancer.
Yikes! The good news is, by stocking up on these high antioxidant foods, you'll prevent oxidative stress and feel great in the process.
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Before we begin: get high antioxidant food, delivered!
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Oxidation is a normal process that takes place in the body when atoms or molecules become unstable because they contain unpaired electrons. These unstable, oxygen-containing molecules are called “free radicals.” Free radicals cause damage to cell structures and DNA by taking electrons from other molecules in order to stabilize themselves.
High antioxidant food helps to stabilize free radicals without causing harm. Free radicals, when not met by antioxidants, interact with and damage other molecules in the body, causing large chain chemical reactions, which we call oxidative stress.
To put it in simpler terms: think of your body as an apple.
If you slice up an apple and leave it on the counter for half an hour, it quickly browns due to its exposure to oxygen.
If you want to prevent that apple from oxidizing (or turning brown), you might toss it in a little bit of lemon juice, a high antioxidant food.
Voila! Your apple stays fresh. No brown spots or "aging." The antioxidants from the lemon juice stabilize the process of oxidation and neutralize free radicals.
Pretty cool, huh?
The same process happens in your body! The more high antioxidant food you take in, the more likely you are to preserve your cells.
A lot of things contribute to oxidative stress, including alcohol use, toxins in the air and on your skin, sun damage from UV rays, stress.
And diet is a big contributor!
Foods that contribute to oxidative stress
Meat is relatively low in antioxidants and high in fats. The moment an animal dies, its flesh begins to oxidize and continues to oxidize at an even higher rate when cooked, especially at high temperatures. (1)
Nuts and oils also begin to oxidize quickly when cooked at a high temperature, or if they go rancid so when it comes to avoiding oxidative stress, choose raw nuts and avoid oils (yep, even olive oil!).
Refined foods like white flour and sugar are also big time inflammation triggers so it's best to steer clear.
Ok, but what should you eat then?
High antioxidant foods.
Fruits and veggies have an average of 64 times more antioxidants than animal-based foods and are best eaten raw or slightly heated. (1)
(We'll get to which foods are highest in antioxidants in a minute here...)
Antioxidants are compounds that stop oxidation (like the lemon stops the apple from turning brown).
Fun fact: every living thing on the planet, including humans, produces their own antioxidants.
When it comes to getting antioxidants from our food, plant-based foods can't be beat. They've got the greatest concentration of antioxidants. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and flavonoids are a few of the essential antioxidants we can get from plant-based foods.
In general, antioxidants can slow the aging process and reduce inflammation, but some of the best ones for the job include: polyphenols, ubiquinol, and botanical antioxidants such as curcumin, resveratrol, and green tea polyphenols. (2)
Where can you get these? We've got you covered...
Wondering which foods to eat for an antioxidant boost and healthier skin? Take note of the color of your food. This is the best way to decipher which foods have the highest concentration of antioxidants.
High antioxidant food tends to be dark and colorful. These fruits and veggies store the most vitamin C, especially red peppers.
Just 1 red pepper contains 100% of your DV of vitamin C! That's over twice the amount of Vitamin C in an orange.
According to the USDA, the top 10 foods with highest concentrations of antioxidants include...
- Small Red Bean, 1/2 cup = 13727
- Wild blueberry, 1 cup =13427
- Red kidney bean, 1 cup = 13259
- Pinto bean, 1/2 cup = 11864
- Blueberry (cultivated), 1 cup = 9019
- Cranberry, 1 cup = 8983
- Artichoke (cooked), 1 cup = 7904
- Blackberry, 1 cup= 7701
- Prune, 1/2 cup= 7291
- Raspberry, 1 cup= 6058
Fun fact: Some studies even show the coffee bean is the most common source of antioxidants for Americans. (Though it's not because coffee is the highest in antioxidants -- rather, we're probably not eating enough high antioxidant food, like fruits and veggies, on the regular.)
- Inflammation is caused by oxidative stress, which can lead to disease, premature aging, depression.
- Antioxidants help to stabilize free radicals, reducing inflammation and extending your longevity.
- Want ore antioxidants in your diet? Choose dark and colorful plant -based foods!
(2) Nutrition Facts
By Caroline DiNicola Fawley
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies