Antioxidants are natural substances that help protect the body against free radical damage to cells. There are many stress factors that create free radicals and oxidative stress such as smoking, air pollution, exercise, high blood sugar levels, and many others. These factors over time, contribute to disease and aging. Antioxidants are found in foods and are important because they neutralize free radicals. The most common antioxidants are vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Vegetables and fruits are loaded with antioxidants. Adding a colorful array of these to your diet will help your overall health.
Here are 7 healthy foods that are high in antioxidants.
- Blueberries – Blueberries are low in calories and high in fiber. They are rich in anthocyanins, which are the pigments that give plants their red, purple, and blue color. Blueberries are a very nutrient-dense berry and among the highest in antioxidants (1). In one study, after 4 weeks of consuming 1 liter of blueberries and apple juice, oxidative DNA damage due to free radicals was reduced by 20% (2).
- Raspberries – Raspberries and their high antioxidants have shown to lower risk of cancer and kill cancer cells in some studies (3). They are high in vitamin C and fiber. Its anthocyanins help to reduce inflammation. A study showed this powerful berry to reduce risk of heart disease (4).
- Kale – Kale contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, being very high in antioxidants. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable in the same family as broccoli and cauliflower. Research shows kale is rich in nutrients and provides antioxidant protection (5).
- Beans – Beans (or legumes) are a great source of fiber and antioxidants. In some studies, the antioxidant kaempferol in beans, have shown to reduce chronic inflammation and cancer growth (6).
- Walnuts – Walnuts have a higher antioxidant content than other nuts. They are high in vitamin E and polyphenols, which are packed with antioxidants. Also containing omega-3s and alpha lipoic acid, walnuts have shown to protect against inflammation and reduce risk of hormone-related cancers (7).
- Sweet potato – Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A. They also have a high fiber content, having a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes and can help to improve blood sugar control. The powerful antioxidants in sweet potatoes have shown to reduce oxidative damage and risk of cancer (8).
- Dark chocolate – Dark chocolate has shown to have even more antioxidants than most other foods. Research shows that dark chocolate can even raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and prevent “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidizing (9). It also may help to lower blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease (10).
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- Prior RL, Cao G, Prior RL, Cao G. Analysis of botanicals and dietary supplements for antioxidant capacity: a review. J AOAC Int. 2000;83(4):950-6.
- Wilms LC, Boots AW, De boer VC, et al. Impact of multiple genetic polymorphisms on effects of a 4-week blueberry juice intervention on ex vivo induced lymphocytic DNA damage in human volunteers. Carcinogenesis. 2007;28(8):1800-6.
- Kresty LA, Mallery SR, Stoner GD. Black raspberries in cancer clinical trials: Past, present and future. J Berry Res. 2016;6(2):251-261.
- Noratto G, Chew BP, Ivanov I. Red raspberry decreases heart biomarkers of cardiac remodeling associated with oxidative and inflammatory stress in obese diabetic db/db mice. Food Funct. 2016;7(12):4944-4955.
- Sikora E, Bodziarczyk I. Composition and antioxidant activity of kale (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala) raw and cooked. Acta Sci Pol Technol Aliment. 2012;11(3):239-48.
- Chen AY, Chen YC. A review of the dietary flavonoid, kaempferol on human health and cancer chemoprevention. Food Chem. 2013;138(4):2099-107.
- Sánchez-gonzález C, Ciudad CJ, Noé V, Izquierdo-pulido M. Health benefits of walnut polyphenols: An exploration beyond their lipid profile. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57(16):3373-3383.
- Larsson SC, Bergkvist L, Näslund I, Rutegård J, Wolk A. Vitamin A, retinol, and carotenoids and the risk of gastric cancer: a prospective cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(2):497-503.
- Wan Y, Vinson JA, Etherton TD, Proch J, Lazarus SA, Kris-etherton PM. Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;74(5):596-602.
- Djoussé L, Hopkins PN, North KE, Pankow JS, Arnett DK, Ellison RC. Chocolate consumption is inversely associated with prevalent coronary heart disease: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Clin Nutr. 2011;30(2):182-7.
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