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Antioxidants have been a health and wellness topic for over 30 years.
And with good reason; they’re part of your body’s crucial defense system.
They’re so crucial, in fact, that they’re a necessary part of living a long, healthy life.
But where do you get antioxidants?
Let’s take an in-depth look at these powerful defenders and the delicious antioxidant foods you can start eating (or may already be eating) to support your overall health.
What Are Antioxidants?
Before we get into the best antioxidant food sources, let’s go over what antioxidants are.
Antioxidants are substances that fight the damage done by the harmful molecules known as free radicals.
There are hundreds or maybe even thousands of substances that can act as free radicals. Some of them you’ve probably heard of, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Others are less commonly known, such as glutathione, flavonoids, and phenols.
Your body produces some pretty powerful antioxidants on its own. However, other antioxidants can only be found in foods, especially plant-based foods.
What Do Antioxidants Do?
Now that you know what antioxidants are, let’s take a look at what they can do for your body.
Your body is under constant attack from outside invaders. Germs, mold, bacteria, are some common threats to your health; free radicals are another.
Free radicals are unstable atoms (missing one or more electrons) that try to find other atoms or molecules to bond with, in an effort to become more stable. This can cause serious damage to other cells.
Unfortunately, free radicals are inevitable, as your body generates them when it turns food into energy. Free radicals can also come from the environment. Smoke, pollution, and even sunlight can all expose you to these harmful molecules.
Antioxidants are your body’s defense system against free radicals. They donate their electrons to free radicals, yet remain stable. They work to repair some of the damage done by free radicals.
The Top 10 Antioxidant Foods
With their free radical-fighting benefits, there’s no denying that antioxidants are a vital part of any healthy diet and long-term wellness plan.
But how do you ensure that you’re getting enough antioxidants?
One way is through antioxidant foods. Many different types of antioxidants occur naturally in a variety of healthy, nutritious foods.
Here are some of our favorites, both for their flavor and their antioxidant properties.
They’re also the veggie that packs the strongest antioxidant punch, containing polyphenols, flavonoids, and more.
Unlike some vegetables, artichokes have a higher antioxidant level when cooked.
Boiling artichokes can raise their antioxidant content 8 times and steaming can raise it by 15 times. But avoid frying them, which can actually lower their antioxidant content.
Almost every type of berry is rich in antioxidants: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries. Blueberries are especially high in antioxidants, although they’re also the ones with the highest sugar.
Like other fruit, berries also tend to be low in calories and sugar, and high in vitamins and fiber.
Fresh berries are best; try to buy them in season. You can always freeze them and then thaw them out when you’re ready to eat them. Frozen berries are a close second. But dried berries only contain about 20% antioxidants, and with the water removed, they’re much higher in sugar.
Eat them raw, throw them in your smoothies, add them to your salads or breakfast cereal… the possibilities are endless. You’ll be “berry” glad you did!
Fill your favorite mug with your go-to brew, because coffee does much more than wake you up.
As far as beverages go, coffee is one of the highest in antioxidants, containing anywhere from 200 to 550 mg of antioxidants per cup!
Just be careful about what you add to your cup of joe. Loading it up with calorie-rich creams and sugars can negate its health benefits.
4. Dark Chocolate
Good news: your favorite decadent treat is actually good for you!
Dark chocolate isn’t just rich in taste; it’s also rich in flavanols, a type of flavonoid. This antioxidant is found in plants such as the cacao tree, which produces the beans used to make chocolate.
Just make sure you stick to dark chocolate, which has double or even triple the cacao content—and therefore the flavanol content—of white or milk chocolate.
Keep in mind that chocolate can be high in fat and sugar. Try sprinkling unsweetened cocoa powder or nibs into a smoothie or over oatmeal for a low-sugar, high-antioxidant treat.
Garlic doesn’t just fend off vampires; it’s chock-full of antioxidants, too.
Garlic’s health-boosting ingredient is allicin, a power-packed antioxidant that needs a few minutes after you’ve minced, crushed, or chopped it to be truly effective. To maximize garlic’s antioxidant benefits, let it sit for a few minutes before adding it to a dish.
Raw garlic is its most effective form. If you do cook it, keep the cooking temperature low; anything above 140°F will kill the allicin. Or, wait until your dish is almost done before topping it off with a delicious dose of garlic.
One of our favorite greens gives you a triple antioxidant bang for your buck, with beta-carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C.
Kale can be eaten in a variety of tasty ways. Raw kale is a great addition to salads and smoothies, or you can use it to power up your soups and stews.
But our top way to eat kale is to bake it into crispy, delicious chips.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- Line a cooking sheet with parchment paper.
- Wash and thoroughly dry kale.
- Tear, chop, or cut kale leaves into bite-sized pieces.
- Spread kale on the cooking sheet, drizzle very lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, just until the edges of the leaves start to turn brown.
Baked kale chips are tastiest right out of the oven, but you can store them in an airtight container for up to a week at room temperature.
Popeye’s favorite leafy green is an excellent choice for your nutrient needs. It provides vitamins, minerals, iron, and is also a powerful antioxidant food.
The antioxidants in spinach are lutein and zeaxanthin, both which combat damage to your eyes by protecting them from UV light and other harmful light wavelengths.
Cooked spinach makes an excellent side dish for your meals. Or use raw spinach as your leafy green in salads, wraps, and smoothies.
You can even use it to make a tasty, antioxidant-rich spinach pesto!
- In a food processor or blender, add 3 cups of spinach, 1 clove of garlic, ⅓ cup of pine nuts, 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of pepper.
- Pulse until combined (but not completely smooth).
- Drizzle in ½ cup of olive oil and the juice of ½ lemon while pulsing.
- Add extra salt and pepper to taste, if needed.
This delicious pesto can be kept in your refrigerator for 7-10 days or frozen for months.
Raw tomatoes are packed with lycopene, one of the most potent antioxidants.
Interestingly, research shows that heating tomatoes (such as steaming or boiling them) releases even more lycopene, optimizing its health benefits. Try cooking them into your favorite red sauce for a delicious antioxidant boost.
Feeling nutty? Choose walnuts, which have one of the highest concentrations of polyphenols (a type of antioxidant).
And it’s not just the amount of antioxidants in walnuts that makes them so effective, it’s also their potency.
The antioxidants in walnuts are incredibly powerful, with 2-15 times the antioxidant effect of vitamin E.
10. Wine (or Grapes)
Ready to “wine-d” down? Then open a bottle of red, which contains an antioxidant known as resveratrol.
This highly effective antioxidant is found in grape skins and seeds, so you could get the same benefit by snacking on the fruit itself. But if you enjoy an occasional glass or two, then you’ll be happy to hear that you get some antioxidants with your vino.
Of course, alcohol does have its drawbacks, so imbibe with caution.
Another option for ensuring that you’re loading your body with beneficial antioxidants is to take a supplement.
Antioxidant supplements take the guesswork out of your nutrition. You won’t have to remember just how many walnuts you ate or whether it was a full serving of berries.
We’re big fans of Just Thrive Probiotic. It produces antioxidants at the most bio-available location in your body, turning your gut into your own antioxidant factory.
Plus, it contains four of the most effective probiotic strains available. So you’ll get the great benefits of an antioxidant, plus a significant boost to your gut health, for a total body win-win!
With their amazing benefits for your mind and body, antioxidants should form a part of any healthy diet.
Luckily, there are plenty of delicious antioxidant foods to choose from. The ones we’ve listed above make for a great start.
But even if you have your favorites, try to eat a wide variety of antioxidant foods and beverages. You’ll boost your supply of different antioxidants, plus get to enjoy the other nutrients they contain.
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