You have likely heard the term antioxidant, but do you know what exactly antioxidants are and how they help us thrive? Read along for an overview on these beneficial compounds and learn how you can add more to your diet!
Antioxidants are molecules found in food and produced naturally in the body. They work to defend cells in the body from harmful unstable molecules, referred to as free radicals. Free radicals are unbalanced atoms that will take electrons from other cells in the body to stabilize. This leads to cell damage, additional free radical creation, and oxidative stress. Free radicals are produced naturally in the body and also absorbed from the environment via ultraviolet rays, air pollution, tobacco smoke, and other sources. These harmful molecules are thought to contribute to the aging process and have also been associated with diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Luckily, there is a way to strike a balance! Antioxidants will work to neutralize free radicals by providing electrons to stabilize the molecules. This keeps harmful free radicals from affecting other cells and causing damage.
Adding antioxidant rich foods to your diet can boost the level of these protective compounds in your body! Typically, foods that contain the most antioxidants are plant-based like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Here are some common antioxidants you should look to include:
Vitamin A has been studied for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease. Animal products such as liver, egg yolks, and fish oils are high in vitamin A. Your body can also convert produce including sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, and leafy greens into vitamin A for protection. Since this vitamin is fat soluble, you will want to make sure you include healthy fats in the same meal to increase absorption.
Alongside neutralizing free radicals, vitamin C also works to regenerate other antioxidants in the body. The human body does not produce vitamin C on its own so it is vital that people get vitamin C from their diet. Most fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C. Tomatoes, red peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, and Brussels sprouts are all great sources of this valuable vitamin.
Consuming vitamin E is beneficial for the circulatory system and fighting free radicals. It is absorbed best when consumed alongside healthy fats. You can increase the vitamin E in your diet by adding vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens.
Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and works to protect cells as an antioxidant. Many fruits and veggies boast beta-carotene in their nutritional profile and it is often responsible for their yellow, orange, or red coloration. Some of the best sources of this healthy compound include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, squash, cantaloupe, apricots, bell peppers, or dark leafy greens (kale and spinach). Please note, beta-carotene is fat soluble and should be eaten alongside healthy fats.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Both lutein and zeaxanthin are thought to be particularly beneficial for the eyes — helping to prevent eye diseases and degeneration. You can increase your intake by consuming spinach, kale, parsley, broccoli, peas, or kiwifruit. Like beta-carotene, lutein is fat soluble and should be eaten in meals alongside healthy fats.
This antioxidant has a bright red color and has been studied for its connection to skin health and protection against the sun. Lycopene can be found in colorful produce including tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava. Make sure you consume these items with healthy fats to help with absorption as this antioxidant is fat soluble.
Selenium is a mineral that helps protect against cell damage. Diseases such as cancer and heart disease have been associated with depleted levels of selenium in the body. You can add more selenium to your diet by eating Brazil nuts, seafood, broccoli, mushrooms, and whole grains.
Not only are flavonoids antioxidants, they also boast antimicrobial abilities. This means they help to prevent the spread of bacteria, fungi, and certain viruses. The best dietary sources of flavonoids are tea, citrus fruits, red wine, onions, and apples.
Isoflavones are thought to exhibit antioxidant, anticancer, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Their ability to fight inflammation helps to prevent a number of diseases. Soy products contain the most isoflavones, but you can also find them in other beans, lentils, peas. Svelte® organic protein shakes are made with fresh non-GMO soymilk, making them a great source of this powerful antioxidant!
There are a number of foods that are praised for their high levels of antioxidants including:
- Berries (Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Goji Berries, Elderberries, Cranberries, Blackberries, Acai Berries)
- Kale + Spinach
- Dark Chocolate
- Red Pinto + Kidney Beans
- Soy Beans + Soy Products
- Red Cabbage
- Purple, Red, and Blue Grapes + Raisins
- Pecans + Walnuts
Adding foods rich in antioxidants to your diet will help protect your body and prevent disease. As with all dietary changes — moderation is key. Focus on eating a balanced diet full of a variety of plant-based foods.