Best Antioxidant Rich Foods
With berry picking season coming into full bloom, I thought that I would touch on how these little gems (along with a variety of foods and tea) are packed full of antioxidants, and free radical fighting benefits, as well as many being high in fiber, protein, and lower in calories (for those trying to watch their caloric intake, and looking for new inspirations).
For more information about free radicals and how antioxidants help prevent cellular damage, be sure to check out my other article Why You Need Antioxidants.
Top 10 Antioxidant Rich Foods
1. Dark Chocolate
Great news for all of you chocolate lovers out there! Dark chocolate is considered to be a top super-fruit, and has been ranked highest in polyphenols, flavanols, and antioxidant activity over all fruits obtained for an in-depth analysis. Other studies have found that dark chocolate may help increase blood flow, and also lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, contributing to reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
Dark chocolate is also rich in copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. These are all healthy minerals our body needs, and many people have insufficiencies in. Aim for 70% cocoa or higher when buying dark chocolate. Any lower than 70%, and you are substituting rich antioxidants, for higher sugar amounts, which will increase glucose levels, resulting in increasing the risk of oxidative stress, instead of reducing it.
High in vitamin C, K, A, manganese, anthocyanins, phytochemicals, phenolic compounds, and flavonoids, makes them one of nature’s best superfoods. In fact, studies have shown that just one cup of these little blue beauties, packs enough antioxidants to equal the daily amount needed for healthy maintenance. They may be high in natural sugars, but are considered low in calories, and extremely high in fiber. They actually have anti-diabetic qualities, by protecting cells from glucose-induced oxidative stress. Blueberries can help in reducing cardiovascular risk, by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and can even play a significant role in preventing the possible formation of tumors (which later may develop into cancer), by maintaining and protecting healthy cells, that could be damaged by oxidative stress.
In comparison to other fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, apples follow a close second to their blue berry friends. They contain a large concentration of flavonoid compounds, as well as many other phytochemicals, and are extremely high in vitamin C. The phytochemical compounds epicatechin, catechin, procyanidins, phloridzin, chlorogenic acid, and the quercetin conjugates, are mostly found within the peels of the apple. Tests have shown small traces of these phytochemicals in the flesh of the apple, but the amounts found are of no comparison to what are contained within the peel. These flavonoid phytochemicals pack a mean punch in contributing to the prevention of cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer, chronic diseases, and slow the aging process, by reducing oxidative stress from the free radicals we are exposed to.
It’s no wonder why the old saying is “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away.”
There are many different varieties of grapes, and the rule of thumb is, “the darker and brighter in color, the higher the antioxidant level”, but that is not necessarily true. Red and green grapes alike, are both high in antioxidants, they are just made up of different antioxidant compounds.
Anthocyanins are the predominant polyphenol that makes up the majority of the antioxidant compounds contained in red table grapes, and are found more in the skin of the grape, while flavanols make up most of the polyphenols in green and concord grapes, and are equally within the pulp and skin of the grape. Grapes also have a good amount of potassium (high amounts helps reduce the risk of stroke, and may lower blood pressure), and resveratrol, which has been known to possibly slow or prevent the formation of tumors.
Resveratrol is also found in red wine. This is not a green light to feeling good about drinking that extra third or fourth glass of wine however. For alcohol, in itself can be very taxing to the body, and increase the risk of cancer by creating a platform for oxidative stress. Alcohol can also interfere with a good night’s sleep, by either causing you to wake up multiple times a night, or keeping you from going into a deep REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement, which is when our bodies go into a dreaming state). Therefore, everything must be done in moderation. If you do enjoy drinking wine, try to keep it to one glass a day (two for men) to maintain proper health and not go overboard with the alcohol content.
5. Dark Leafy Greens
Chock full of fiber, carotenoids, lutein, folate (B-vitamins), vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K (helps to protect bones against osteoporosis), and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium, it’s no wonder why dark leafy greens are recommended to be a staple in any clean eating diet. Some of the most nutrient dense varieties are dandelion (which can be found fresh, growing wild in many different regions), arugula, kale, spinach, collard greens, bok choy, watercress, swish chard, broccoli, salad greens (mixed greens, romaine, and baby spinach), mustard greens, etc. As you can see, there is quite a variety to choose from, which will keep you from getting bored eating the same foods over and over again.
Some of my favorite ways to incorporate dark leafy greens into my diet, is by making super tasty salads, for the sky really is the limit here. You could make Italian, Mexican, Greek, Thai beef (one of my absolute favorites!), or whatever suites your taste buds. When it comes to eating raw kale, it can be harder to digest for some, causing bloating, gas, or other digestive issues. I like to break down the compounds (making kale much easier to digest and absorb) by either sautéing it with a little butter or olive oil and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt, or by making a smash salad by squeezing lemon juice over the kale (tossing it throughout) and letting it sit for up to 15-30 minutes (while I prep other foods), then take a mashed avocado, and work it throughout the kale. Add salt and pepper to your liking (or any other ingredients that may interest you taste buds) and enjoy this super tasty, yet healthy treat!
I also love mixing greens into pastas, soups, omelets, and adding them to sandwiches or wraps. Steaming is great for cooking broccoli, and stir fry’s are a quick, easy way to throw a veggie rich meal together.
6. Strawberries, Raspberries, & Blackberries
Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are all considered part of the same berry Rosaceae family, and just like their blueberry relative, are made up of free radical fighting phenolic acid, anthocyanins, flavonols, ascorbic acid, and tannins.
Strawberries and raspberries are both very similar in antioxidant levels, and though they are super tasty to enjoy, have three times less antioxidants as their blueberry cousins. This does not mean that you should ditch the red berries for blueberries, for they are still extremely high in fiber, low in calories, and low in carbohydrates, not to mention great for adding into smoothies, salads, cereals, and other breakfast staples.
Blackberries are higher in anthocyanins, and phenolics than their strawberry and raspberry sisters, and can be found growing wild in many different regions, especially in the southeast of the United States. They also contain high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese, and have been known to help with inflammation, boost brain activity health, support cardiovascular and oral health, and may prevent various types of cancer formations. When it comes to fiber, blackberries are king over all other variety’s. In fact, just one cup of these black beauties equals 7 grams of fiber! Which is a great addition to any diet needing to incorporate more fiber rich foods.
Berries can be found now in grocery stores throughout most seasons, but the best choices are to buy them in their natural growing seasons, which is February to May for strawberries, June or July for raspberries, and July – August for blackberries.
Check your local area for possible U-pick farms, where you are able to pick as many as your heart desires, and can store them up in the freezer or make delicious jams and jellies out of them. Children especially love going to farms where you pick your own berries, and it can create many great memories for the whole family to share for years to come!
Green tea, and yaupon tea are some of my favorites to drink, and are loaded with antioxidants, as well as caffeine for those looking for that little extra pick-me-up to get you through your 2:00 appointment.
Green tea is high in EGCG, which are natural antioxidants called catechins. They work by helping to prevent cell damage, which is why many people who consume green tea daily, have noticeably less fine lines and wrinkles as they age. Green tea is also made up of 30% polyphenols (in weighted form), making the tea extremely rich in antioxidants, for fighting
off free radicals, and maintaining healthy cells within the body. Green tea does contain
caffeine (approximately a 1/3 of the amount found in a cup of coffee), which can be a great
substitute for anyone trying to limit or break their daily coffee habits, but still need that little extra boost. For green tea does not give you that jittery feeling you get from coffee, and also does not make you crash a couple hours after drinking it.
There are decaffeinated options for those sensitive to caffeine, or prefer to drink their tea at night before bed.
Green tea is widely known throughout the world for its many health benefits, but I bet you haven’t heard of yaupon tea, now have you?
Yaupon is a holly bush that grows rampant throughout the southeast region, from east Texas, to Florida, then up towards the Carolinas and South Virginia. It is a forgotten native plant, and many people don’t even realize that they have an overabundance of it growing in their backyard, for it is considered to be an invasive nuisance.
You only harvest the leaves from this bush for making tea (never the berries, for they could cause serious stomach ache and digestive issues), and you can either hang the limbs up to naturally dry out the leaves, or slow roast them in the oven. Yaupon is equal to green tea in antioxidant levels, but higher in caffeine, (closer to the equivalency of a cup of coffee). Slow roasting will reduce the amount of caffeine within, but quicken the drying time and give the tea a slight nutty flavor, while hang drying will take up to two-three weeks for the leaves to be dry enough of tea storing.
If you choose to roast your harvest, I like doing it at a low temperature (so that you don’t risk burning the leaves) of roughly 300 degrees, for anywhere between eight-fifteen minutes. The time depends on your oven heating elements, and how much you want to roast them for. Usually I aim for ten minutes, but again, this depends on your taste and preference.
Beets are amazing foods indeed, for they are packed with B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, vitamin C, vitamin P, iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, iodine, copper, folate, fiber, and antioxidant rich betalains, (which gives beets their rich pigmented color). Because of the high iron levels in beets, it is recommended for people fighting iron deficiencies to incorporate beets into their weekly diet, in order to prevent, or possibly cure anemia.
Beets are also considered good for reducing inflammation, and helping to increase athletic performance. They also support a healthy cardiovascular system, by reducing blood pressure, and improving circulation. They may also help with improving cognitive function.
Beets are one of those foods that you either love, or completely despise with all of your might. I’ll be honest in saying that I never liked beets growing up and throughout my twenties, but beets are a food my husband always liked, so I gave them a second chance and was quite surprised at the fact that I actually enjoy eating them now! It is said, that our taste buds change every seven years, so what you may have not liked years ago, may actually be something you can tolerate and enjoy today.
One of my favorite ways to eat beets, is by pickling them in a brine, and enjoying them on salads or within sandwiches.
Artichokes are another super food winner! They are extremely abundant in phenolic compounds, and have been considered highly beneficial for not only fresh market edible use, but also for the use in pharmaceuticals as well. They are low in calories, high in good fats, and high in fiber (6 grams to be exact per choke plant), as well as high in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B-6, calcium, thiamine, niacin, folate,
phosphorus, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and antioxidants silymarin, and cynarin.
Artichokes are great for stimulating bile flow, which helps in cleansing the liver by flushing toxins out of your body. Artichokes may help lower blood pressure, and bad cholesterol (LDL), while raising good cholesterol (HDL). They also have many cancer preventing and cancer fighting qualities.
Artichokes can be eaten a number of different ways. The most widely known way is steaming them, then dipping the leaves (for when cooked, the leaves and the heart are both edible) into a housemaid sauce or aioli. You can also grill, boil, roast, sauté, bake (or stuff then bake), and even fry them (although tasty, this method kills many of the nutrients within the artichoke, and increases bad fat intake).
High in antioxidant polyphenols, nuts can play a significant role in fighting off oxidative stress and preventing free radicals from causing damage to cells.
Walnuts, pecans, chestnuts and peanuts (great news for the peanut lovers out there) are among the highest in antioxidants of all nut varieties, though almonds and macadamia nuts are also extremely beneficial to incorporate in to the diet.
They are high in vitamin E, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, including omega 3-fatty acids, which can help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and raise HDL (good cholesterol), and can contribute to cardiovascular and stroke prevention. They may help in controlling glucose levels, which is a major benefit for people with prediabetes trying to lower their insulin levels.
They are also high in fiber and protein, which combined with their high fat content, makes them a perfect snack food for feeling full and satisfied, while curbing other (not so healthy) cravings, and that alone is something to go nuts over!
There you have it!
A wide variety of delicious and nutritious antioxidant rich foods to keep you healthy, happy, and satisfied.
Remember, when shopping for antioxidant rich foods at your local grocery store or farmers market, aim for a mix of brightly colored and vibrant fruits and vegetables. The brighter the color, the higher the nutrient and antioxidant levels tend to be.
Also, when preparing meals for yourself and your family, the goal recommended by all health nutritionists, is to fill (at least) half of your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables. The other half of your plate, should be a combination of protein and fiber rich whole grains.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and would love to hear about some of your favorite antioxidant rich foods (that I did not list above), if you could please share by leaving a comment below.
May you have many years of good health and vitality!