We hear a lot about antioxidants in food being good for us, but what exactly are they, and what foods contain the most of them?
Antioxidants help defend your body from damage by potentially harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals accumulate and can create a state in your body called oxidative stress. This can damage your DNA and other important cell structures, and could increase your risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that by eating a diet rich in antioxidant foods, you can help to fight oxidative stress and reduce your risk of getting these diseases. The top foods high in antioxidants are:
Pecans are a type of nut that contain healthy fats, minerals and a good level of antioxidants.
A study found that people who ate pecans had a 26 to 33 per cent fall in oxidized blood LDL levels within two to eight hours. This lowering of oxidized LDL reduces the risk of heart disease.
Pecans are high in calories, so it’s important not to eat too many.
2. Dark Chocolate
It’s the high cocoa levels in dark chocolate that make it nutritious. Dark chocolate has higher antioxidant levels than blueberries and raspberries in the same serving size.
Dark chocolate can help reduce high blood pressure, and can raise levels of good HDL cholesterol in the blood, as well as preventing bad LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized.
Strawberries and some other berries contain a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins. These give them their red color, and strawberries that are bright red have a higher anthocyanin level than those that are not as colorful.
Studies show that people who took an anthocyanin supplement had a significant reduction in their LDL cholesterol. These subjects had either heart disease or high LDL levels to begin with.
Americans and British often overlook artichokes as part of a healthy diet, but they are a nutritious and tasty vegetable. In ancient times, people used artichoke leaves as a remedy to treat liver conditions.
Artichokes are rich in an antioxidant known as chlorogenic acid. Studies have shown that chlorogenic acid may reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
If artichokes are boiled, this can increase their antioxidant content by an amazing eight times, and steaming may raise it by up to 15 times. Unfortunately for lovers of a fry-up, frying artichokes may reduce their antioxidant content.
Blueberries are low in calories, but full of nutrients and antioxidants. Some studies even suggest that blueberries have the highest amount of antioxidants among all the commonly consumed fruit and vegetables.
Blueberries have anthocyanins, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, but studies have also shown that the antioxidants in blueberries may delay brain function decline associated with ageing.
6. Goji Berries
Goji berries are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years.
The berries contain unique antioxidants called Lycium barbarum polysaccharides, which have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. They may also help combat skin ageing. Unfortunately, goji berries are expensive.
More studies are needed on the human health benefits of goji berries.
Kale is related to broccoli and cauliflower, and is one of the most nutritious greens around. It’s rich in vitamins A, K, and C, and is rich in antioxidants.
Red varieties of kale such as Russian kale and redbor may contain twice as many antioxidants as the green varieties. Kale is also a great plant-based source of calcium, which is good news for vegans.
Beans are inexpensive and tasty ingredients, as well as being high in fibre and one of the best vegetable sources of antioxidants.
Some beans, such as pinto beans, have a particular antioxidant called kaempferol. This antioxidant has shown health benefits, such as a reduction of chronic inflammation and suppressed cancer growth.
Beetroot, or beets as they are also known, are a great source of fibre, iron, potassium, folate and antioxidants.
Betalains are the type of antioxidant found in beetroot that have health benefits. They also give beetroot its reddish hue. Betalains have been linked to a reduced risk of cancers in the colon and digestive tract.
Beets also contain other compounds that may help suppress inflammation, and a study found that taking betalain capsules made from beetroot extract helped relieve osteoarthritis pain and inflammation.
Popeye ate spinach for a reason! It’s one of the most nutritionally dense vegetables, full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two antioxidants in spinach that may help protect your eyes from damaging UV light and other harmful light wavelengths.
11. Red Cabbage
Red cabbage contains anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that give it its red color, and these antioxidants have several health benefits. They may reduce inflammation, reduce cancer risk, and help protect against heart disease.
Red cabbage is also full of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant in the body. It can help strengthen the immune system and help keep skin firm.
Boiling and stir-frying red cabbage could boost the amount of antioxidants in it, while steaming could reduce the antioxidant content by as much as 35 per cent.