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What are Antioxidants?

What are Antioxidants?

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How Do Antioxidants Support Healing?

Certain foods – including beautifully-marketed “superfoods” – are celebrated for their antioxidant properties. But what does that even mean? What are antioxidants, and why are they important?

What is oxidation? Oxidative stress?

As the name implies, antioxidants fight oxidation. But what is oxidation? Let’s take a closer look:

If you cut up an apple and leave it on the counter for a day or two, its white flesh will turn brown. This “rusting,” or “browning” process is called oxidation.

Oxidation occurs in the body, too. Specifically, oxidation happens when our cells are exposed to unstable molecules known as free radicals.

In many cases, oxidation in the body is a normal and healthy thing. For example, free radicals help us fight off bacteria and viruses.

Oxidation is like the brown “rust” on an apple.

While oxidation is normal, oxidative stress can do us harm.

When free radicals outnumber antioxidants in the body, we get oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can damage our cells. It can even harm our genetic material (DNA). Over time, oxidative stress can increase the risk for many chronic health issues.

Diseases associated with oxidative stress

  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Cardiovascular disease

Common sources of free radicals and oxidative stress include

  • Cigarettes and other nicotine/tobacco products
  • Diets high in calories
  • Sugar in the diet
  • Refined carbohydrates like breads, pastas, potato chips, and cookies
  • Charbroiled foods, such as barbequed meats
  • Alcohol
  • Viral infections
  • Not exercising enough
  • Obesity
  • Certain medications
  • Not getting enough good quality sleep
  • Emotional and/or physical stress
  • Poor liver and digestive health, which compromises detoxification pathways
  • Chronic infections (like Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr, and dental infections)
  • Air pollution, pesticides, harmful chemicals in the air, and mold
  • Radiation
Smoking and drinking alcohol are major sources of oxidative stress.

Antioxidants fight oxidative stress

Antioxidant foods and substances help combat oxidative stress. Specifically, antioxidants reduce the damage caused by free radicals. In fact, antioxidants are sometimes called “free radical scavengers.”

The body responds to infections by producing free radicals. These free radicals help keep the body healthy by fighting off the invading bacteria, fungus, or virus. Antioxidants help the immune system and the free radicals continue their important job of fighting off the infection, without causing any “friendly fire” to the healthy, human cells.

For this reason, researchers have proposed that people who eat diets rich in antioxidants may fare better in the face of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).

(Free radicals are harmful because they have an extra, unpaired electron floating around in their molecular structure. Antioxidants donate an extra electron, creating a pair of electrons, thus making the molecules more stable.)

What foods contain antioxidants?

Researchers conducted a study of over 3,000 foods gathered from across the world. They found that spices and herbs contain some of the most antioxidants. Natural, plant-based (vegan) foods tend to have more antioxidant content than foods made from animals.

Antioxidant Foods infographic

Some common, all-time favorite antioxidant foods and nutritional agents include:

Dried herbs

In order of highest to lower antioxidant count:

  • Cloves
  • Mint
  • Allspice
  • Cinnamon
  • Oregano
  • Basil

Berries

In order of highest to lower antioxidant count:

  • Blackberries – blackberries have more antioxidants per serving than any other fruit or berry!
  • Blueberries – blueberries are #2 on the list of high antioxidant count. They have more than double the number of antioxidants as goji berries and raspberries!
  • Goji berries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Cranberries

Fruits

In order of highest to lower antioxidant count:

  • Amla (Indian gooseberry), dried – dried Amla contains more than 100 times more antioxidants than pomegranates!
  • Plums
  • Pomegranate
  • While dried fruit tends to have higher antioxidant levels than fresh fruit, it’s also more likely to spike blood sugar levels, contain more calories, and cause gas if sulfur is used as a preservative

Vegetables

In order of highest to lower antioxidant count:

  • Artichoke
  • Kale
  • Cauliflower
  • Red cabbage
  • Orange bell pepper
  • Beets

Nuts and seeds

In order of highest to lower antioxidant count:

  • Walnuts – walnuts by far have the highest antioxidant value of other nuts – almost 2.5 times that of pecans, and 4 times that of pistachios and chestnuts!
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Chestnuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Flaxseeds (ground)

Legumes

  • Dark chocolate
  • Coffee – coffee actually contains more antioxidants than green tea, though it comes with certain other problems that green tea doesn’t (we’ll unpack that in another blog post)

Green tea supplement capsules next to greens powder

Antioxidant Supplements

  • Sulforaphane
  • Green tea extract
  • Milk thistle
  • Gingko biloba
  • Alpha lipoic acid
  • Olive leaf
  • N-acetylcysteine
  • Glutathione
  • Melatonin
  • B-complex vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Greens products

Antioxidant Smoothie in a jar

Antioxidant Smoothie Recipe

The easiest way to get more health-boosting antioxidants into your life is through the diet. This recipe contains antioxidant-rich foods like berries, parsley, and kale for a tasty treat. The almond butter adds some healthy fat and protein, to help fill you up and give you energy for your day. The kale will make the smoothie turn green – but don’t worry, it will still taste sweet from the berries.

Antioxidant Smoothie Recipe

This recipe contains antioxidant-rich foods like berries, parsley, and kale for a tasty treat. Vegan, Gluten-Free, Paleo Friendly, and Yummy!
Prep Time5 mins
Course: Breakfast, Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Antioxidant Smoothie, Antioxidant Smoothie recipe, berry smoother, smoothie with antioxidants
Servings: 2
Calories: 258.6kcal

Equipment

  • 1 blender

Ingredients

  • ½ cup blackberries fresh or frozen
  • ½ cup blueberries fresh or frozen
  • ½ cup raspberries strawberries, or cherries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 medium banana peeled (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 handful fresh parsley
  • 2 leaves of kale rinsed, stem and thick ribs discarded
  • 2 cup unsweetened nut milk or coconut milk or coconut water (Can use more liquid if for a thinner smoothie)
  • 2 ice cubes skip if using frozen berries

Instructions

  • Mix all of the ingredients together in a blender.
  • Blend on high until ingredients are well combined.
  • Add water or other liquid as needed until desired consistency is reached

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Antioxidant Smoothie Recipe
Serving Size
 
1 smoothie
Amount per Serving
Calories
258.6
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
13.4
g
21
%
Saturated Fat
 
0.9
g
6
%
Polyunsaturated Fat
 
4.4
g
Monounsaturated Fat
 
6.8
g
Sodium
 
359.8
mg
16
%
Potassium
 
672.5
mg
19
%
Carbohydrates
 
32.5
g
11
%
Fiber
 
11.1
g
46
%
Sugar
 
15.4
g
17
%
Protein
 
8.1
g
16
%
Vitamin A
 
6007.6
IU
120
%
Vitamin C
 
80
mg
97
%
Calcium
 
526.6
mg
53
%
Iron
 
2.3
mg
13
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Just about everyone could stand to get a little antioxidant boost. Thankfully, there are plenty of options to choose from.

 

References

Click here to see References

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