Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation, a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals and chain reactions that may damage the cells of organisms. Antioxidants remove free radicals from the body which can run rampant and actually damage cells, causing serious illness. Many health professionals use them for treatments of stroke and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. They have also been helpful in treating brain injury and may slow and even prevent development of cancers. Antioxidants such as thiols or ascorbic acid (vitamin C) may act to inhibit these reactions. To balance oxidative stress, plants and animals maintain complex systems of overlapping antioxidants, such as glutathione. Diets high in vegetables and fruits, which are good sources of antioxidants, have been found to be healthy; however, research has not shown antioxidant supplements to be beneficial in preventing diseases. Examples of antioxidants include vitamins C and E, selenium, and carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin (Benzie, 2003).
Examples of Antioxidant Rich Foods
Reilly (2020) gives a comprehensive list of foods highest in antioxidants arranged by food groups:
Many fruits are high in antioxidants, packed with vitamins, and beneficial in a myriad of ways. These include cranberries, red grapes, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, figs, cherries, pears, guava, oranges, apricots, mango, red grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya, and tomatoes (Reilly, 2020).
With the water removed, the antioxidant ratio is higher in dried fruits than in fresh. They can easily be carried with you in your purse, briefcase or car and they make a quick healthy snack. Consider taking along dried pears, plums, apples, peaches, figs, dates and raisins. However, be careful of sugar content; avoid dried fruits that have processed sugars added to them to make them sweeter (Reilly, 2020).
Most common vegetables rich in antioxidants are broccoli, spinach, carrots and potatoes are all high in antioxidants, and so are artichokes, cabbage, asparagus, avocados, beetroot, radish, lettuce, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, collard greens and kale (Reilly, 2020).
Spices and Herbs
Using lots of spices in cooking is good. Many are loaded with antioxidants, like cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cumin, parsley, basil, curry powder, mustard seed, ginger, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic, coriander, onion and cardamom. Herbs include sage, thyme, marjoram, tarragon, peppermint, oregano, savory, basil and dill weed. All contribute complexity and flavor to your meals, but also are high in antioxidants (Reilly, 2020).
Cereals and Nuts
Corn flakes, oatmeal and granola bars pack a healthy punch, as do walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts and even that peanut butter sandwich (Reilly, 2020).
Contrary to popular belief, most of our antioxidants come from beverages. Apple juice, cider, tomato juice, pomegranate juice and pink grapefruit juice seem obvious, and green tea has become very popular as a source, but black tea and plain tea have high levels also (Reilly, 2020).
Dietary Recommendations for Antioxidants for the Body
According to Better Health Channel (2020,) to achieve a healthy and well-balanced diet, it is recommended that we eat a wide variety from the main five food groups every day:
- vegetables and legumes or beans
- whole grain foods and cereals,
- lean meat, poultry and protein (such as fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds)
- dairy and dairy alternatives – mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milk is not recommended for children under 2 years)
To meet your nutritional needs, as a minimum try to consume a serve of fruit and vegetables daily. Although serving sizes vary depending on gender, age and stage of life, this is roughly a medium-sized piece of fruit or a half-cup of cooked vegetables.
Benefits of Antioxidant Rich Foods to the Body
According to Manaker (2019), antioxidants may combat the effects of oxidative stress. Large-scale studies have demonstrated that antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc can significantly influence the rates of some major diseases like cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. There are many antioxidants in existence, and certain antioxidants play specific roles in the body. Additionally, many antioxidants found naturally in food work together to have an effect in the body. For example, vitamin E and selenium work together to eliminate highly toxic components in the body. They depend on adequate amounts of each other to accomplish this task. Thankfully, eating a balanced diet will supply your body with varying types and quantities of antioxidants. Studies have found that intake of antioxidants obtained from food have a protective effect in most cases.
Olsen (2018) in enumerating the benefits of antioxidants stated that antioxidants can protect against the cell damage that free radicals cause, known as oxidative stress. The damage caused by oxidative stress has been linked to cancer, atherosclerosis, and vision loss. It is thought that the free radicals cause changes in the cells that lead to these and possibly other conditions. An intake of antioxidants is believed to reduce these risks. Antioxidants act as radical scavenger, hydrogen donor, electron donor, peroxide decomposer, singlet oxygen quencher, enzyme inhibitor, synergist, and metal-chelating agents. Antioxidants may help reduce vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration in older people.
Benzie, I.F. (2003). “Evolution of dietary antioxidants”. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A. 136 (1): 113–26. doi:10.1016/S1095-6433(02)00368-9.
Better Health Channel (2020). Antioxidants. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/antioxidants#dietary-recommendations-for-antioxidants on 1st May, 2021
Manaker, L. (2019). Why You Need Antioxidants In Your Diet—And How To Eat More Of Them. Retrieved from https://www.eatthis.com/antioxidants/ on 1st May, 2021
Olsen, N. (2018). How can antioxidants benefit our health? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301506 on 1st May, 2021
Reilly, C. T. (2020). Top 20 Foods High In Antioxidants. Retrieved from https://www.stjohns.health/documents/content/top-20-foods-high-in-antioxidants.pdf on 1st May, 2021.