Antioxidants – you know they’re important, and you’re probably wondering “what are the best antioxidant foods?” But, you might also be wondering “what is all this antioxidant stuff about, anyway?” We were there, too, so this post is all about a quick overview of antioxidants and the absolute BEST antioxidant foods.
Antioxidants are molecules that are essential to your health – both short and long-term – because they manage the level of free radicals in your body. Free radicals, which are associated with aging and are a natural by-product of metabolism, can be harmful if their levels become too high in your body. Elevated levels of free radicals are linked to multiple illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
There are various causes of elevated levels of free radicals, such as foods that we eat, or our environment. Some examples are fried foods, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides and air pollutants.
Free Radicals = Oxidative Stress
If the balance of antioxidants and free radicals in your system gets thrown off it creates what is called oxidative stress. This is a situation where there are more free radical molecules than antioxidant molecules and those free radicals can start to cause damage to your body. Over time oxidative stress can lead to the problems mentioned above.
You can kind of see this in action, too. Take an apple, cut it in half, and place it on the counter, what happens? It starts to turn brown. This is oxidation. If you sprinkle the cut apple with lemon juice it doesn’t turn brown. Why? Lemon juice is an antioxidant! Isn’t that awesome? (flashback to Jr High science class!)
Can’t Our Bodies Just Do This On Their Own?
Yes, our bodies can, to a point. Your body has its own antioxidant defenses to keep free radicals in check. But, unfortunately, those stores are frequently outmatched by free radicals (causing oxidative stress) because of the effects of modern living such as environmental toxins, poor diet, and unhealthy lifestyle choices. But you can do your body (and yourself) a big favor by enhancing your body’s stores of antioxidants.
So, Why Not Just Take Supplements?
Well, the catch is that supplementation isn’t particularly effective (and may possibly lead to having too much in your system) – you need to get them from FOOD and fresh, whole food is best. Plus, getting antioxidants the natural way, with food, has this sort of magic where you can’t get too much. Cool right?
Fruits and Veggies for the Best Antioxidant Win
That’s right, antioxidants are also found in food, especially in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based, whole foods. Another reason to fist-bump yourself for your plant-based eating (or to help you get started)!
By comparison, animal-based foods have hardly any antioxidant value. For example, a serving of fresh salmon has about 3 antioxidant units and a simple apple has about 40! Which sounds really good, by comparison, but you’re about to find out that an apple is barely 1/10th as powerful as any of the top 5 antioxidant foods.
Eat All The Colors for Antioxidant Health
Over all, the fruits and veggies with the most antioxidant power are the ones that are the most colorful, and have the deepest color. So, when you are selecting fresh produce, choose the deepest green broccoli, the most vivid strawberries, the darkest kale, and so on. That’s a helpful guideline, in general, too as it means you are selecting the freshest and ripest fruits and veggies.
So, What ARE the 5 Best Antioxidant Foods?
OK, enough science! So, what are the 5 Best Antioxidant Foods? Slight spoiler alert: they are ALL berries! Here are the best antioxidant foods with their antioxidant power units value per cup of fresh or frozen:
How Much Antioxidant Food Should I Eat?
We had the same question after learning all of this information. A basic daily target is several hundred antioxidant units. That means you will really cover your body’s needs by adding about a cup of one of the 5 big ones to your already super-good-for-you plant-based eating.
So, What Do WE Do for Antioxidant Foods?
Even though blackberries are king, we acknowledge that they are a little pricey! So we usually use wild blueberries and organic strawberries in a daily smoothie – like our delicious Antioxidant Blueberry Smoothie. We are fortunate to have a BJs (a big-box store in the USA) nearby with a steady supply of large, economical, bags of frozen berries. They also have “runner-up” type fruits such as mangos, as well as spinach, kale, and broccoli – all solid sources of antioxidants.
Most markets have a pretty solid stock of either fresh or frozen berries. So start there. Getting frozen means you can wait for sales, or get big bags at big box stores (save some money!). As always, check the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists to make sure you know which ones you really need to get organic.
More Berries For A Healthy Body!
Antioxidants are SO important, particularly considering all the lifestyle and environmental factors that promote free radical development and cause oxidative stress. But some simple action goes a long way towards combating the problem: try to add a serving, or more, of the berries in this top five list. Add them to smoothies or eat them straight like a snack. The important thing is to have them on hand. If you see them in the fridge, you are more likely to eat them!
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