Top 10 High Antioxidant Foods
Every single one of us has both antioxidants and free radicals present inside of our bodies at all times. Some antioxidants are made from the body itself, while we must get others from our diets by eating high antioxidant foods that double as anti-inflammatory foods. Our bodies also produce free radicals as byproducts of cellular reactions. For example, the liver produces and uses free radicals to detoxify the body, while white blood cells send free radicals to destroy bacteria, viruses and damaged cells.
When certain types of oxygen molecules are allowed to travel freely in the body, they cause what’s known as oxidative damage, which is the formation of free radicals. When antioxidant levels in the body are lower than that of free radicals — due to poor nutrition, toxin exposure or other factors — oxidation wreaks havoc in the body. The effect? Accelerated aging, damaged or mutated cells, broken-down tissue, the activation of harmful genes within DNA, and an overloaded immune system.
The Western lifestyle — with its processed foods, reliance on medications, and high exposure to chemicals or environmental pollutants — seems to lay the foundation for the proliferation of free radicals. Because many of us are exposed to such high rates of oxidative stress from a young age, more than ever we need the power of antioxidants, which means we need to consume high antioxidant foods.
What Are Antioxidants?
While there are many ways to describe what antioxidants do inside the body, one definition of antioxidants is any substance that inhibits oxidation, especially one used to counteract the deterioration of stored food products or removes potentially damaging oxidizing agents in a living organism.
Antioxidants include dozens of food-based substances you may have heard of before, such as carotenoids like beta-carotene, lycopene and vitamin C. These are several examples of antioxidants that inhibit oxidation, or reactions promoted by oxygen, peroxide and/or free radicals. (1) Research suggests that when it comes to longevity and overall health, some of the benefits of consuming antioxidant foods, herbs, teas and supplements include:
- Slower signs of aging, including of the skin, eyes, tissue, joints, heart and brain
- Healthier, more youthful, glowing skin
- Reduced cancer risk
- Detoxification support
- Longer life span
- Protection against heart disease and stroke
- Less risk for cognitive problems, such as dementia
- Reduced risk for vision loss or disorders like macular degeneration and cataracts
- Antioxidants are also added to food or household products to prevent oxidation and spoilage
Why do we need antioxidants, and what do specific antioxidants do inside the body once consumed?
Antioxidant sources, like antioxidant foods, herbs, spices and teas, reduce the effects of free radicals, also called oxidative damage/stress, which plays a major role in disease formation. The leading health problems facing us today — including conditions like heart disease, cancer and dementia — have been linked to increased levels of oxidative damage and inflammation. In simplest terms, oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, leading to other chemical chain reactions that damage cells.
According to research published in Free Radical Biology & Medicine, the official journal of the Society for Redox Biology and Medicine along with the Society of Free Radical Research-Europe, proteins are often targeted by reactive oxygen species, also known as oxidants. (1a) We know how important proteins are to health, so protecting them is just one of the many reasons antioxidants and antioxidant foods are important.
Sources of antioxidants in your diet offer much-needed help in counteracting the damage done by things like blue light or sun exposure, a poor diet, smoking or using other drugs, taking medications, toxicity or chemical exposure, even high amounts of stress and other natural factors that increase the risk of age-related problems. In the process of fighting free radical damage, antioxidants protect healthy cells while halting the growth of malignant or cancerous cells.
Top Health Benefits of Antioxidant Foods
1. Slow the Effects of Aging by Reducing Free Radical Damage
As described above, the single most important benefit of antioxidants is counteracting free radicals found inside every human body, which are very destructive to things like tissue and cells. Free radicals are responsible for contributing to many health issues and have connections to such diseases as cancer and premature aging of the skin or eyes.
2. Protect Vision and the Eyes
The antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene have all been shown to have positive effects on preventing macular degeneration, or age-related vision loss/blindness. Many foods that provide these nutrients also supply antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin, nicknamed the eye vitamins, and found in brightly colored foods like fruits and vegetables — especially leafy greens and types that are deep orange or yellow.
3. Reduce the Effects of Aging on the Skin
Perhaps most noticeably, free radicals speed up the aging process when it comes to the appearance and health of your skin. Antioxidants may help combat this damage, especially from eating sources high in vitamin C, beta-carotene and other antioxidants.
4. Help Prevent Stroke and Heart Disease
Since antioxidants help prevent damage of tissues and cells caused by free radicals, they’re needed to protect against heart disease and stroke. At this point, the data does not show that all antioxidants are effective in protecting against heart disease, but some, such as vitamin C, do seem to be.
5. May Help Decrease Risk of Cancer
Studies have found that high intakes of vitamin A, vitamin C and other antioxidants could help prevent or treat several forms of cancer thanks to their ability to control malignant cells in the body and cause cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (destruction) of cancer cells. Retinoic acid, derived from vitamin A, is one chemical that plays important roles in cell development and differentiation as well as cancer treatment.
6. Can Help Prevent Cognitive Decline, Such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
Oxidative stress is believed to play a central role in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases, but a nutrient-dense diet seems to lower one’s risk. The Journal of the American Medical Association of Neurology reports that higher intake of foods rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, may modestly reduce long-term risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. (10)
Are There Any Antioxidant Precautions or Side Effects?
Just like any other supplement, it doesn’t seem that it’s beneficial or even necessarily safe to consume high doses of antioxidants in supplement form. For example, because during exercise oxygen consumption can increase by a factor of more than 10, taking high doses of antioxidants might interfere with proper exercise recovery. (12) Other research has shown that high-dose antioxidant supplementation may interfere with the cardiovascular benefits of exercise, have negative effects on the body’s natural anti-cancer activities, and affect how the body balances levels of different chemicals and nutrients on its own. (13, 14)
Final Thoughts on Antioxidants and High Antioxidant Foods
- Antioxidants inhibit oxidation in the body, also called free radical damage, which is tied to stress.
- We get most antioxidants from our diets, which help counteract effects of an unhealthy lifestyle, such as accelerated aging, damaged or mutated cells, broken-down tissue within the skin or eyes, the activation of harmful genes within DNA, and low immunity.
- Some noteworthy high antioxidant foods, herbs and supplements include leafy green veggies, artichokes, cocoa, wild berries, green tea, cinnamon, clove, sea vegetables like kelp, spirulina, quercetin or lutein supplements, and essential oils like lavender and frankincense.