Well, they might not do all that, but they are pretty amazing. Antioxidants get their name because they counter the effects of oxidation, which is the same process that creates rust, or makes an apple turn brown. In the human body, oxidation refers to a process where oxygen interacts with certain molecules and causes some atoms to become unstable and unpaired. These become free radicals, which can cause damage throughout the body, creating a chain reaction of unstable cells.
Free radicals naturally occur in the body no matter what you do, but also naturally occurring in the body are antioxidants, which work to counter the harm of free radicals. We’re not entirely sure how it is that antioxidants work to stop free radicals, but it’s believed that they stabilize the free radicals by donating some of their own electrons, but resisting becoming free radicals themselves because they’re such stable compounds.
The body naturally produces antioxidants, but it can always use a boost, since free radicals occur frequently, and can be exacerbated by pollutants in the environment, and certain foods and drinks we ingest. Antioxidants are found in a lot of fruit and vegetables. In fact, almost all plant-based foods have them, so one of the best ways to ensure that your cells are in balance is by making sure that your diet consistently contains plenty of colorful produce.
Some of the Most Antioxidant-Rich Foods
We often use the term “superfood” to refer to something that has disproportionately high levels of certain nutrients. Here are some foods that are packed full of antioxidants, along with some suggestions for incorporating them in your diet more often:
Blueberries are a great food because they’re good in just about any form. Eat them fresh, or freeze them and snack on them at your leisure--they’re like tiny blue popsicle bites! You can also add them into an easy smoothie along with other nutrition-rich foods to make a great start to your day. Blueberries are also great distilled into a syrup or baked in a pie, but remember to eat the skins… that’s where the bulk of the nutrients are! Other berries, like blackberries, or cranberries, or especially acai berries, are also great antioxidant resources.
- Beans (kidney, pinto, and red):
Beans are great in a variety of foods, but most of us don’t really know how to cook with them. Well, here’s a great suggestion to start out with: most of the time, they’re sold dried in bags. In order to cook them up quicker, you’ll probably want to soak them overnight in order to soften them. Beans are great mixed into a salad, or added into soups like minestrone, or zucchini vegetable. Explore traditional Indian and Mediterranean recipes for creative ways to incorporate beans into patties, curries, and paste.
- Black Plums (and their dried counterparts, prunes!):
You probably knew about the digestive benefits of these fiber-rich foods, but never thought about the antioxidant properties. Prune juice is probably one of the easiest ways to buy and eat prunes, but they can also be great cooked into savory dishes like lamb, or mixed into a trail mix.
That’s right, the simple food that is so delicious in stews and fries is also full of antioxidants. However, the most antioxidants are found in the skin, so don’t peel them first! Potatoes are also best for you when they’re more fresh and not loaded down with grease and fat. So, consider eating them in a healthy potato salad, roasted or steamed, and mixed into soups and roasts.
Yes another everyday food that you didn’t know had so many healthy components, apples are loaded with unique flavonoids that support skin and eye health and fight disease. Apples are, of course, great eaten just as they are, fresh off the tree. But you can also press them into juice or cider, bake them into a cinnamon crumble, or add them to a fresh summery salad. If you’re not interested in eating fresh apples, consider adding peanut butter, nutella, or almond butter to make them into a special treat.
Now, while the above foods are very rich in antioxidants, that doesn’t mean that you can get all the antioxidants you need from them alone. Different foods provide antioxidants that function differently throughout the body, so a diverse balance is required for the best health.