It is well established in the literature that antioxidants go a long way towards the prevention of diseases which are triggered or caused by the damage done to the body from free radicals. Free radicals are the normal byproducts of an oxidative process which produces energy in the body. We also will acquire toxins from our environment which cause free radical chain reactions within the body. Both of these circumstances can be contained through the use of antioxidants. (1)
Anti-oxidants are substances or chemicals which break the chain reaction of free radicals or stop them before they start. In an effort to improve our health researchers and scientists have recommended that individuals receive between eight and 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day in order to potentially get enough anti-oxidants to a limit may be detrimental effects of free radicals. (2)
So if we want the best bang for our buck, in other words receive more antioxidant for the least amount of food eaten, which foods are highest in antioxidants? The list of foods can sometimes be debated as to which has the highest number and which doesn’t. However, the overall goal is to eat an adequate amount of foods that specific antioxidants in order to negate the effects of free radicals.
One of the foods that contain the highest number of antioxidants can be found in blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. They are full fiber, minerals, vitamins and loaded with healing antioxidants, namely pranthocyanidins. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries also contain ellagic acid, a compound that combats carcinogens. Blueberries also appear to delay the onset of age-related loss in cognitive function.
Broccoli is another vegetable loaded with antioxidants. It is one of the cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, that help to prevent cancer and ward off heart disease. These vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, a potent antioxidant that breaks down estrogen in the body and reduces the risk of breast cancer and cervical cancers. Broccoli also contains beta-carotene which helps to prevent heart disease.
Tomatoes have also made the news media in the past several years, and for good reason. Science has found that they contain chemicals, including lycopene, which wards off certain types of cancer and prevents macular degeneration and cataracts. Lycopene is a relatively rare member of the carotenoid family and is twice as powerful as beta-carotene. Some studies suggest that lycopene can help to prevent lung, colon and breast cancer. Tomatoes contain the antioxidant glutathione which helps to boost immune function.
Dried beans are another good source of anti-oxidants as are granny smith apples, pecans and cherries. 10 years ago scientists discovered that an anti-oxidant in red wine may keep your heart beating longer and stronger. This led to an increase in advertising dollars by the wine industry. The substances they found in red grapes that helped to boost heart health by acting as a free radical scavenger. The actual chemical found was resveratrol, now manufactured in the laboratory and sold as a supplement.
Garlic is a medicinal herb which has been used for centuries in a variety of ways, including as an antibiotic. Garlic is packed with antioxidants and sulfur compounds thought to be responsible for its healing benefits. Garlic is known to lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure and has anti-clotting properties.
Carrots have long been touted as the vegetable of choice in order to save someone’s eye sight. This is due to the beta-carotene, also founded beets, sweet potatoes and other orange vegetables. It has been found to help prevent macular degeneration. Research also points to the protection that beta-carotene provides against cancer, heart disease and the progression of arthritis. (3,4)
You may not like it, but spinach is a nutritional jackpot. The antioxidant found in spinach is Lutein and is the main pigment located in the macula of the eye. People who eat spinach are less likely to develop cataracts. Lutein also works by shielding the retina from sun damage and can help prevent heart disease.
These are only a few of the foods, fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, that contain antioxidants necessary to fight free radical damage in our bodies. By getting enough fruits and vegetables on a daily basis we help our bodies to fight the damage done by free radicals produced in our bodies but also acquired through toxins and waste products in the environment. We acquire free radicals through strenuous exercise, breathing and pollution, smoking and alcohol intake just to name a few.
Researchers now know that antioxidants are able to provide a level of protection and prevention against illnesses and diseases long thought to be a part of the aging process. By incorporating only a few things into our diet we are able to positively impact the long term effects of our health.
(1) Bowling Green State University: Chapter 14 Radical Reactions
(2) National Cancer Institute: Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention
(3) MedlinePlus: Beta-Carotene
(4) University of Maryland Medical Center: Beta-Carotene