Plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains contain many components that are beneficial to human health. Research supports that some of these foods, called Super Antioxidant Foods, as part of an overall healthy diet, have the potential to delay the onset of many age-related diseases due to oxidation.
These observations have led to continuing research aimed at identifying specific bio active components in foods, such as antioxidants, which may be responsible for improving and maintaining health and immune system functioning and ageing, as in the National Institutes Of Health (NIH) study.
In addition vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains high in antioxidants (*) are also typically high in fiber, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and good sources of other important vitamins and minerals, (*) including trace minerals, amino acids, (*)anti-inflammatories, (*)and omega 3 fatty acids. (*)
Antioxidants are present in foods as vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and polyphenols, among other substances. The human body produces free radicals as a byproduct of normal cellular activity, and the body dispenses many of them on its own. However, too many free radicals caused typically by chronic inflammation, known as oxidative stress, can be potentially harmful because they attack healthy cells and can damage them and potentially trigger the development of cancer, and also damage molecules such as in DNA.
Antioxidants (1) are chemicals compounds that block the activity of free radicals. As covered in this NIH study, environmental factors can also trigger and increase the levels of free radicals in our bodies such as lack of sunlight, poor diet such as eating processed foods or fast foods, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, prescription medications, ozone, radiation, and pollutants (air and water).
Natural Versus Synthetic Antioxidants
There are literally thousands of synthetic or labratory-made vitamins, minerals, and supplements claiming to be antioxidants, but clinical trials, like this NIH National Cancer Institute study “Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention“, show they have no significant effect in fighting free-radical damage and reducing your risk of developing cancer or dying from the disease. Attempts to mimic natural antioxidants effects with supplements have been largely unsuccessful; it seems nature remains smarter than mankind when it comes to antioxidants.
Part of the reason for this seems to be bio-availability: Your body “knows” how to assimulate and use natural antioxidants; it does not know how to use the lab-made versions. However, and we can’t stress it enough, ongoing research, like this NIH study, continues to show diets rich in natural phytochemical plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, are effective and lower your risk for cancer and other illnesses and conditions.
Each antioxidant substance has a specific action, but it is in combination that antioxidants appear most powerful. That’s why it so important to eat a variety of all natural high antioxidant foods, according to an Harvard Medical School study.
Bright Colors Make A Difference
Many antioxidants are identified in their food by their distinctive colors, such as the deep red of cherries and of tomatoes; the orange of carrots or sweet potatoes; the yellow of corn, mangoes, and saffron; and the blue and purple of blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. The most well-known components of food with antioxidant activities are vitamins A, C, and E; Beta-carotene; the mineral selenium; and more recently, the compound lycopene.
Authority Recommendations Of Healthy Antioxidants
The American Heart Association recommends healthy adults
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Choose 5 or more servings per day.
Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Most recently the US Government Dietary Guidelines for Americans stated,
Increased intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products are likely to have important health benefits for most Americans.
The bottom line is the same: eat more fruits and veggies,
says Ronald L. Prior, Ph.D., a chemist and nutritionist with the USDA’s Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Ark., and lead author of the USDA study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
This study confirms that those foods are full of benefits, particularly those with higher levels of antioxidants. Nuts and spices are also good sources.
Did you get the point? Eat 5 fruits and vegetables each day (2)!
Still not convinced? Here are a few more documented studies. The NIH found that a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods from an early age can offer protection against age-related ocular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma. Another study by the NIH, concluded that higher fruit and vegetable intake (and antioxidants and fiber) is a “powerful tool” in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, poor cognitive performance, and other diet-related diseases.
A 2003 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and reviewed by the NIH, found that increased consumption of antioxidants led to
reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer disease, cataracts, and some functional declines associated with aging.
ORAC Antioxidant Score
Antioxidants are measured based on an ORAC score. (3) ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. A substance is rated based on its ability to neutralize damage causing oxygen free radicals. Usually, this is based on 100 grams of each food substance or herb. Some foods with extremely high ORAC scores are Gobi berries, wild blueberries, dark chocolate, pecans, artichokes, elderberries, kidney beans, cranberries, and blackberries.
Some herbs and spices have super high ORAC scores. They include cloves, cilantro, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cocoa, sage, rosemary, cumin, parsley, basil, ginger, and thyme. Garlic, cayenne pepper, coffee (espresso), and green tea are said to have high ORAC scores too. But ORAC scores are based on weight, and at times it is not practical to eat these foods in such high quantities to be totally effective.
But, go ahead and season your food liberally because it’s good for you besides tasting great! There are other foods which can be eaten in large quantities on a regular and practical basis and have a fairly high ORAC score. Eating three to four servings of these is much more plausible. No doubt these would play a significant role in winning the battle with the free radicals.
Partial List Of Super Antioxidant Foods
Research published in Nutrition Journal analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 3,100 foods and drinks. Here’s just a partial list to summarize some top antioxidant performers:
Organic Blackberries. Blackberries are loaded with polyphenols and flavonoids. Studies show that besides being great sources of antioxidants, these berries can help in dilating blood vessels. They are a great source of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and Manganese.
Organic Pecans. Pecan are known to be a great source of essential vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. They provide a whole array of phytonutrients that contribute to their health benefits, according to the NIH. These include anti-inflammatory, antiviral and cholesterol reducing properties.
One cup of Pecan nuts contains more than 100% of the daily needed amount of healthy fats and more than 200% of the needed manganese. These nuts are also a great source of Thiamine which is part of Vitamin B complex. These nuts are nothing short of boasting with properties that help defy your age and keep your skin firm.
Organic Cranberries. Cranberries are packed with Vitamin C, a well-known antioxidant. One cup of cranberries has enough Vitamin C to satisfy a quarter of the daily recommended dose. Cranberries have a unique set of antioxidants known as proanthocyanidins (PACs). These are not usually found in other fruits and berries.
Cranberries are known to cure and lower the risk of urinary tract infections. However, according to an NIH study, at this time, there is no good quality evidence to suggest that it is effective for the treatment of urinary tract infections and further trials should be run. Cranberries are now being seen as a possible alternative to treatment with antibiotics. Besides, cranberries are packed with phenolic bio active compounds that help you ace the health game.
Organic Walnuts. Walnuts are packed with minerals, healthy fatty acids, and essential amino acids. One cup of walnuts contains 40 – 60% of the daily recommended protein. Walnuts have high quantities of alpha-linolenic acid compared to other nuts, as confirmed by this NIH study . Alpha-linolenic acid or ALA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in fruits such as strawberries. ALA is known to play a role in preventing various neurological disorders. It is known to protect the brain from strokes and plays a significant role in learning & memory.
Organic Strawberries. Strawberries are a rich source of Vitamin C, B6 and various other antioxidants. They are known to improve the health of one’s skin and heart respectively. An NIH study shows that strawberries are a significant source of antioxidant polyphenols. These play a crucial role in the prevention of conditions related to obesity. That includes metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Besides that strawberries are also known as a natural tooth whitener.
Organic Artichokes. Artichokes have the highest content of antioxidants and antioxidant activity among all known vegetables, per this NIH study. They are loaded with Vitamin C, folic acid, and flavones among others. Besides, they are also a great source of magnesium. Artichokes are known to play a role in improving heart and liver health over long periods of consumption. Just 100 grams of cooked artichokes contain more than 30% of the recommended daily fiber intake. An NIH study confirmed that artichokes do play a role in reducing cholesterol levels and assist in controlling heart disease.
Organic Blueberries. Blueberries are packed with anthocyanins which are responsible for their blue hues. These anthocyanins along with other phenolic compounds help fight against and prevent inflammations. Regular consumption of these bioactive compounds, is known to protect the body against heart disease and reduce the risk of various forms of cancer.
Organic Cherries. The deep red hues of cherries are attributed to high quantities of anthocyanins. These pigments play an important role in reducing inflammations and lowering cholesterol. A study showed that antioxidants extracted from cherries can help cure type 2 diabetes. An NIH study concluded that cherries,
It’sreasonably strong to indicate that consumption of cherries decreased markers for oxidative stress, inflammation, exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength, and blood pressure acutely after ingesting cherries
Researchers are now exploring the possibility of an alternative to the artificial sugar. All with the help of cherry-based sweeteners. Canned tart cherries/ sour cherries, and the dried sweet cherries are both known to be equally good. Tart cherries are also a rich source of melatonin which plays a role in regulating sleep cycles.
Organic Red Raspberries. Raspberries are another go-to food if you are looking at antioxidants. These bio active compounds in these berries are known to play somewhat of a role in killing colon and stomach cancer cells, according to this NIH study. Raspberries are a rich source of Vitamin C, manganese, and dietary fiber. Besides the polyphenol antioxidants in these berries also help prevent cardiac-related ailments.
Fresh Dark Chocolate. We knew you love chocolate just like everyone else! But, did you know it’s really healthy for you? Antioxidants present in dark chocolate are known to help to reduce blood pressure, the risk of diabetes, and cardiovascular benefits, according to this NIH study. There’s a catch to it, however. Make sure to skip the processed, sugar-rich bars and milk chocolate, and stick to the darker, sugar-free dark chocolate. This is only because sugar and other dietary additives tend to lower the antioxidant content score.
Organic Alfafa Sprouts. This tiny powerhouse is rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that protects against lung cancer and helps maintain healthy skin, hair, nails, gums, glands, bones, and tooth. It’s also a good source of vitamin E, which may help prevent heart attacks, stokes, and lower the risk of death from bladder cancer.
Organic Broccoli. Eating a high amount of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of cancer; particularly lung and colon cancer. Studies have suggested that glucosinolates or sulforaphane, the sulfur-containing compound that gives cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite, is also what gives them their breast cancer-fighting power, according to an NIH study. Another important vitamin in broccoli is folates (B complex), has been found to decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. One NIH study found that folate,
suggested that folate may have preventive effects against breast cancer risk.
Folates have also shown promise in protecting against colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancers.
Organic Kale. Like broccoli, kale is a cruiferous dark-green leafy vegetable containing glucosinolates and anti-cancer activity, according to the Harvard T H Chan School Of Public Health study, by preventing the growth and spread of tumors and protecting healthy cells. Kale can improve your immune system and fight infection due to the high concentration of Vitamin C, which is a vital immune system booster.
Dark leafy greens like kale or spinach are rich in the carotenoid antioxidants. These antioxidants form the yellow pigment in the eye and absorb blue wavelengths of light to protect the macula from damage. Kale is also rich in potassium, and improves the HDL- to LDL-cholesterol ratio and antioxidant systems, thus reducing the risk of coronary artery disease.
Organic Whole Meal Bread. The bran provides most of the high healthy fiber in whole grains and nutrient-rich whole grain breads are particularly high in B complex vitamins including niacin, thiamine, and folate, and minerals, such as zinc, iron, magnesium, and manganese. But what most people aren’t aware of is whole grains abound in antioxidants called polyphenols. In fact, per a NIH study, whole grain products have comparable antioxidants per gram to fruits and vegetables, and the same health benefits.
Organic Beans. (take your pick) Lentils also provide antioxidants such as Vitamin A and C, which bind with and destroy free radicals, reducing oxidative damage to cells. Lentils also have a high content of tannins, phytochemicals and polyphenols that prevent cancer growth. Quoting the NIH study,
Consumption of lentil seeds reduces the incidence of various cancers including colon, thyroid, liver, breast and prostate.
There are significant amounts of folate and magnesium for heart health, and also rich in plant protein, to support growth and development, making them a good addition to any diet. Lentils are high in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber encourages regular bowel movement and prevents constipation and helps prevent colon cancer, per this Mayo Clinic study. While soluble fiber reduces the risk of heart disease and regulates blood sugar for people with diabetes.
Organic Espresso. Espresso contains antioxidants which aid in the enhancement of health by helping boost the immune system, improves long term memory, enhances brain function, boost weight loss due to reducing food cravings, the thermogenic effect of caffeine which also burns calories, and helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
An NIH study confirmed that natural coffee beans contain some very powerful antioxidants, but roasting reduces their potency. However, quoting the study,
On the other hand, in the process of roasting such polymeric compounds as melanoidins (which are potent antioxidants) and other compounds are formed.
Adding cream or sugar to espresso reduces the antioxidant activity.
Organic Peruvian Maca. P Maca has active natural antioxidants such as glutathione and is effective in reducing free radical damage, according to this NIH study. In addition to the antioxidant activity, it has all the micro-nutrients, as well, such as amino acids, omega 3 fatty acids, full range of vitamins and minerals, anti-inflammatories, and a complete plant protein. P Maca contains flavonoids, which are thought to improve mood and reduce anxiety, and loser blood pressure.
A ScienceDirect study also confirmed the antioxidant effectiveness of Maca against oxidative stress. Learn more about P Maca by reading “Where Can I Buy Maca?” P Maca makes an incredible nutrient-dense antioxidant smoothie with blueberries. Check it out!
Other Healthy Tips
Buy your antioxidant foods fresh as possible either from a private organic farmer or a specialty market that sells certified organic foods, or through links on this site. The reason why buying fresh is so important is that food oxidizes very quickly once it leaves the plant and stops growing. All foods begins to breakdown and can lose up to an average 30 per cent of their nutritional value, and it’s health benefits, if not consumed rather quickly, according to a University Of California study.
A much better healthy option in guaranteeing freshness is to plant your own backyard garden. Yes, that’s right, you can’t imagine the joy and satisfaction of walking out your back door, picking a basket full of fresh veggies and fruits right off of the plants and vines, for you and your family to eat that day.
The importance of eating certified organically-grown foods can not be stressed enough! Conventional farming uses chemical fertilizers, additives, and pesticides in growing food, and studies, such as this World Health Organization “Pesticides In Food” review, have confirmed there are residues in and on the food even after it’s washed, increasing the risks of causing health issues.
Organic foods are produced virtually without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, making them much safer and healthier for human consumption. A 2017 Harvard T H Chan School Of Public Health co-authored a study for the European Parliament outlining the health benefits of eating organic food and practicing organic agriculture.
To purchase the high antioxidant foods discussed in this article, follow the links noted with (*).
We hope you found this information on Super Antioxidant Foods helpful. Are you now convinced of the importance of you and your family eating fresh, as possible, certified organic high-antioxidant foods? Please leave your questions and comments below.
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