Antioxidants help your body fight disease and shield your cells from free radical damage, yet there are actually some surprisingly easy ways to get more antioxidants from your diet. Day-to-day pollution, toxins, smoking cigarettes, as well as our body’s natural metabolism all create free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that are ready to pounce on any other molecule, including our cells, proteins, and DNA. Think of free radical damage as the equivalent of what happens to an apple when it’s exposed to too much air. If you counteract the oxidation of an apple by adding lemon juice, it’s a similar analogy as when you add antioxidants to your body. It has a much better chance of staying healthy when you eat antioxidants (particularly those rich in Vitamins A, C and E). And, you'll have more molecules available to react with free radicals. Here are some easy ways to get more antioxidants.
Start your day with some fresh fruit juices – this has to be one of the easiest ways to get more antioxidants in your diet. There are so many fruit juices out there, and you can even buy a juicer if you want to make your own fresher, healthier juices. Tip: drink juices within ten minutes of cutting up fresh fruit, for vitamins lose their potency quickly when exposed to air and light. Consider using grapefruit, watermelon, pomegranate, and grape juices – these are some of the most antioxidant-rich fruits out there.
Instead of reaching for a plain green salad, try including radicchio, red cabbage, kale, spinach, or some Chinese cabbage (bok choy), which is particularly rich in Vitamins A and C. Pumpkin, sesame, or pomegranate seeds will not only add a crunch texture-wise, but they're also full of antioxidants.
When cooking your favorite pasta, add some bright, colorful vegetables, like yellow and red bell peppers, sautéed mushrooms, onions, broccoli, and fresh or frozen green peas. Not only do they add more flavor and color, but they are all rich in antioxidants.
Keep individual servings of grapes, cherries, or sticks of celery and carrots in the fridge for those times when you're needing a snack. If you keep these items at eye level, you'll avoid reaching for something else.
Dried cloves, cinnamon, ginger, curry powder, paprika, and chili powder are all some of the antioxidant-rich herbs you can add to your favorite salads, stews, soups, and even desserts whilst you’re cooking.
Thread some cubed vegetables, such as mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes, onto a skewer, and ears of corn onto the barbecue when you’re grilling up your favorite piece of meat or veggie burger this summer. For the final course, think about creating fruit kebabs (with pineapple, peaches, and bananas), and don't forget to drizzle pureed strawberry or blueberry sauce (coulis) over the top.
Instead of opting for the cheese or margarita pizzas, add some fresh vegetables on top! Artichokes, spinach, bell peppers, olives, even some fresh tomato slices work wonders. Top off your pizza with fresh basil or oregano for that added antioxidant-rich treat.
They're not always the first thing you think about incorporating, but beans contain proteins, minerals, and they are also a fantastic source of B Vitamins and fiber – particularly kidney, white, butter, and the fava bean variety. Tip: introduce beans into your diet by adding them to homemade soups, chilis, salads, or sprinkle them on top of a plate of cheesy nachos, for those occasions when you're not in such a health-freak mood!
Chocolate and cocoa beans contain catechins (a natural plant phenol and antioxidant compound which belongs to the family of flavonoids). Research has shown that catechins may help prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease. Cocoa beans are a great source of flavonoids too (compounds with antioxidant abilities), therefore chocolate that contains a higher cocoa content naturally packs in more flavonoids and catechins.
Just like chocolate, brewed coffee and tea contains catechins. Be careful not to overload these drinks with sugar, creamers, or flavored syrups though. Brewed green tea is the best source of catechins as it contains three times the amount of catechins found in black tea. Brew it at home or buy it at your local coffee shop; bottled tea doesn’t offer quite the same health benefits.
Preferably red wine! I left a glass of red wine for last. Moderate drinking has been linked with lower rates of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Scientists credit the antioxidant resveratrol for these positive effects. Moderate drinking means no more than one glass per day for women, and no more than two glasses per day for men.
Nature has provided us with an abundance of antioxidants – some of them familiar, others not so. I hope, however, that you'll be able to consume more antioxidants in your diet. What's your favorite antioxidant-rich food or drink?
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