Superfoods: Antioxidants, Free Radicals & Their Top Sources
At this time of year we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be healthier. We’re encouraged to start detoxing, eat superfoods, take antioxidants and supplements, and it can all be a bit overwhelming.
A diet high in antioxidants is a great place to start if you want to feel more assured that you’re getting what you need from your diet and may reduce the risk of many diseases (including heart disease and certain cancers) as well as provide many benefits for your skin.
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. Compounds that can cause you harm if the levels become too high. These compounds have been linked to illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. They can also prevent or slow down damage to our cells.
Your body has its own antioxidant defences, but you can also find antioxidants in foods such as fruits, vegetables and other plant-based whole foods and several vitamins, such as vitamins E and C, are effective antioxidants.
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are unstable molecules that our bodies produce in reaction to environmental and other pressure. Free radicals are continually being formed in your body. Without antioxidants, free radicals would cause serious harm quickly and would eventually lead to death.
But, free radicals also serve important functions that are essential for health. Your immune cells use free radicals to fight infection. As a result, your body needs to maintain a certain balance of antioxidants and free radicals. When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, it can lead to a state called oxidative stress, which can damage your DNA and other essential molecules in your body if prolonged. Damage to your DNA increases your risk of cancer, and some scientists have suggested it has a pivotal role in the ageing process.
Several lifestyle, stress, and environmental factors are known to promote excessive free radical formation and oxidative stress, including, air pollution, drinking alcohol, high blood sugar levels and bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.
Sources of Antioxidants
Our bodies make some of the antioxidants we need. Eating plant-based foods are a great way of raising your antioxidant levels – especially fruit and vegetables. Foods that are exceptionally high in antioxidants are often referred to as “superfoods”.
Blueberries - Fruits Packed with Antioxidants
The perfect addition to any breakfast bowl, blueberries are fruits with a rich source of antioxidants. They contain many phytochemicals, flavonoids (catechin, epicatechin), anthocyanin (which gives the blue pigment to the fruit), beta-carotene, phenolic compounds and ellagic acid (ellagitannin). Blueberries are high in antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E, A and C. They are also a good source of dietary fibre. Several studies found that eating blueberries increases antioxidant activity in the blood as well as showing potential to prevent DNA damage.
Be Nuts for Antioxidants
According to Healthline, nuts are an antioxidant powerhouse. They may be high in fat, but they have impressive health benefits. Antioxidants, including the polyphenols in nuts, can combat oxidative stress by neutralising free radicals — unstable molecules that may cause cell damage and increase disease risk. Walnuts contain massive amounts of antioxidants. Pecans, chestnuts, peanuts, pistachios, and sunflower seeds are very rich in total antioxidants. Hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamias, pine kernels, cashew nuts, flax seeds, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds contain significant amounts of total antioxidants.
Dark Green Vegetables for Vitality
We’re always being told to eat our greens. For a good reason, green vegetables are brimming with antioxidant phytochemicals such as kaempferol, which may help dilate blood vessels and may have cancer-fighting properties. Kale, spinach and broccoli are all packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
Tea - The Best Antioxidant Drink
Tea is an antioxidant packed drink that contains a specific kind of antioxidant called flavonoid. Tea is said to have ten times the amount of antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. The detoxifying effect of these antioxidants protects cells from free radicals.
The Humble Bean's Antioxidant Reign
The humble bean is the king when it comes to antioxidants. Beans are also one of the best vegetable sources of antioxidants. A FRAP analysis found that green broad beans contain up to 2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
In fact, beans provide a fantastic package of nutrients, including many vitamins and minerals. Green soybeans and soy provide vitamin C, calcium, zinc, and selenium. Lentils and black-eyed peas are rich in folate and zinc. Black beans and kidney beans also offer a good amount of folate. Baked beans on toast anyone?
Glutathione: Your Intramuscular Antioxidant Booster
Glutathione is a potent antioxidant that is produced by your body’s cells. It’s made up of three amino acids: glutamine, glycine, and cysteine.
Research suggests that Glutathione can also benefit the body in other ways, such as supporting immune function, forming sperm cells, transporting mercury out of the brain and helping the liver and gallbladder deal with fats.
The levels of Glutathione in your body can decrease due to poor nutrition, environmental toxins, stress or ageing.