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Are You Antioxidant Savvy? Win the Free Radical Battle!


We’ve all heard of free radicals, yet many of us aren’t quite sure what they are or why they’re not good for us. Free radicals are unstable molecules, produced by normal bodily functions, that can cause damage to cells. But by eating food that are high in antioxidants, you can create a sort of armor to protect yourself from them.

To get started, make it a goal to eat foods in four or five different colors every day. By adding a variety of fruits and vegetables, you will increase the number of antioxidants you consume. Next, get the most bang for your buck by preparing them the right way.

GREEN: Just one cup or a fist-size portion of green foods per day provides lots of antioxidants. Broccoli, spinach, escarole, and parsley contain isothiocynates (ITCs), which are important for detoxification. Spinach contains a very high level of antioxidant activity and just one cup provides all of your vitamin A and K for the day, as well as folate. Spinach is powerful in preventing cancer, especially prostate cancer. Green tea is noted for its high amount of catechins which are antioxidants that may aid in cancer prevention. Overcooking kills nutrients in green foods, such as broccoli. If you do cook it, lightly sauté or steam. Never microwave broccoli because the intense heat drains all of the nutrients. Chop florets in quarters to release the enzymes. Interestingly, artichokes are one of the only foods that stand up to the cooking process and maintain nutrients when cooked.

YELLOW/ORANGE: Bright yellow and orange fruits and veggies contain lots of vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy organs. Vitamin A helps prevent cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even depression. Bananas contain beta-carotene and vitamins A, C and E, lutein, and selenium. The riper the banana, the higher the antioxidants – so don’t throw them out when they start to turn brown. Carrots are also an excellent source of vitamin A, and butternut squash is loaded with antioxidants. It’s best to cook carrots whole; cutting them allows more nutrients to escape. When making sweet potatoes, bake, broil and/or steam. Also, the nutrients are contained when the potato is cooked in its own skin, so resist the urge to peel! Get at least two servings of yellow or orange fruits and vegetables every day.

PURPLE: Purple is my favorite color. I wish there were more purple foods! Foods with purple skins contain anthocyanins, which protect cells from damage and heal already damaged cells, promote eye health and help to prevent cancer, diabetes and stroke. They help to relax blood vessels which has heart benefits, and can lower LDL. Plums or prunes, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and black currants are all good sources of anthocyanins – the darker the pigment, the higher the amount of antioxidants. Guess what else?!?! Red wine is also a good source of anthocyanins (one 4-ounce glass of red wine per day is plenty.) Cabernet has the highest level of antioxidants. Wine also contains resveratrol, which can prevent heart disease by increasing levels of good cholesterol and protecting against arterial damage. Eat purple fruits and veggies four to five times per week.

RED: Cherries and strawberries are packed with anthocyanins, flavonoids that may help in reducing blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help protect cells from damage. Heat is important for optimal lycopene absorption because it breaks down the cell wall to unleash potency.

That being said, which foods have the highest levels of antioxidants?

Roll Over Blueberry - A Guide To Antioxidants - Infographic
“Roll Over Blueberry: A Guide To Antioxidant Rich Foods” on Health Perch

More specifically, the following is a list of different kinds of antioxidants and where you can find them:

• Allium sulphur compounds: Leeks, onions, garlic
• Anthocyanins: Eggplant, grapes, berries
• Beta carotene: Pumpkin, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach, parsley
• Catechins: Red wine, tea
• Copper: Seafood, lean meat, milk, nuts, legumes
• Cryptoxanthins: Red peppers, pumpkin, mangoes
• Flavonoids: Tea, green tea, red wine, citrus fruits, onion, apples
• Indoles: Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
• Lignans: Sesame seeds, bran, whole grains, vegetables
• Lutein: Corn, leafy greens (such as spinach)
• Lycopene: Tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon
• Manganese: Seafood, lean meat, milk, nuts
• Polyphenols: Thyme, oregano
• Selenium: Seafood, offal, lean meat, whole grains
• Vitamin C: Oranges, berries, kiwi fruit, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, peppers
• Vitamin E: Vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, seeds, whole grains
• Zinc: Seafood, lean meat, milk, nuts
• Zoochemicals: Red meat, offal, fish

What are your favorite ways to incorporate these antioxidant rich foods into your family’s meal plan?  Have a great recipe to share?