Benefiting from Antioxidants

Antioxidants are quickly gaining popularity in the medical and nutrition fields for their numerous health benefits. Primarily, antioxidants are important in preventing oxidative stress or damage to the cells in our bodies. This damage has been linked to the development of diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses.

Although our bodies produce some antioxidants, plants are a wonderfully rich source of many different kinds of antioxidants called phytochemicals. Eating foods that are high in these phytochemicals can help boost our body’s immune system to prevent disease and illness.

So what type of foods do we eat to get the antioxidants we need? We are told that we should eat so called ‘superfoods’ like blueberries, acai, goji berries or pomegranate juice because of their high antioxidant content. But what happens if we don’t have the funds or access to some of these foods? Do we have to eat the so-called ‘superfoods’ to get the antioxidants our bodies need?

The answer is no. Eating a diet that is full of variety and color is the key to getting enough antioxidants. Phytochemicals are found in all different types of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and herbs/spices. A recent study by the USDA revealed the top foods that contain the highest amounts of antioxidants.

These include:

  • Red beans, kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans
  • Blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries
  • Cooked artichoke hearts
  • Prunes
  • Red Delicious, Granny Smith and Gala apples
  • Pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts
  • Plums
  • Sweet cherries
  • Cooked russet potatoes
  • Cloves, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, parsley, basil and cumin

And the list goes on. As phytochemicals are found in natural color pigments, the more colorful and varied our diets, the more antioxidants we consume.

So enjoy a colorful fruit salad, put some cinnamon on top of your sweet potato or oatmeal, try beans or nuts/seeds as an alternative to your meat dishes, and experiment adding lots of different herbs and spices to your cooking.

Enjoy a variety of foods and benefit from antioxidants!

Rachel Cope MPH, RD, CD