We're all on a quest for the elixir of life.
Something to fight cancer, prevent heart disease, keep our skin looking young and head off the brain drain that comes with aging.
Well, we say to look no further than your local farmer’s market or grocery store, where you can find the fruits, vegetables and even treats (chocolate) that are high in disease-fighting substances.
We've compiled this information so that you can find out which foods you should be eating, along with easy, delicious ways to add more to your diet.
But first, it's helpful to know...
How They Work
You always hear doctors (and cosmetics companies) talking about the importance of free-radical beaters.
But what do these molecules really do?
In a nutshell, antioxidants shield our cells from the damage of free radicals.
To understand how they work, think about peeled potatoes and sliced apples.
If you leave them on the counter for several minutes, they turn an unappealing shade of brown.
That’s because when you cut the apple or potato, you exposed the inner flesh to air, allowing oxygen to react with chemicals found under the skin.
Sprinkle on some free-radical beaters in the form of orange or lemon juice, and you won’t have this unappetizing problem.
The vitamin-C in the juice is an antioxidant, a compound that combats oxidation and prevents cellular damage.
The same scenario can be found in your body.
Pollution, toxins, smoking, and normal metabolism create those damaging free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules ready to pounce on any nearby molecule including proteins and DNA.
Fortunately, natural, antioxidant protection from the foods we eat can protect our DNA and other molecules by stabilizing these free radicals before they have a chance to strike.
By eating fruits, vegetables and other antioxidant-rich foods every day, you are increasing your body’s availability of molecules that can react with those free radicals.
Push the salad bowl away and you’re setting yourself up for chronic disease and premature signs of aging.
Nature has provided us with an abundance of free radical fighters.
Some are familiar, others not.
Perhaps the most commonly recognized are vitamin-C, vitamin-E, beta-carotene (the plant form of vitamin-A), and the mineral
Others such as lycopene (found in tomatoes), lutein (green leafy vegetables), ellagic acid (berries), resveratrol (grapes) and anthocyanins (blueberries and pomegranate) may be less known, but they're just as important.
These are phytochemicals, plant chemicals, that protect the host plant from infections and give them their distinctive colors.
Move over blueberries, pomegranates, and Merlot!
There's a new set of superfoods to try.
Antioxidants are one of the most popular nutrition buzzwords.
And for good reasons: They fight signs of aging, inflammation, and they can even help with weight loss.
But when it comes to free radical fighters, certain foods, blueberries, pomegranates, and spices like cinnamon and turmeric, get all the glory.
It's time for the unsung heroes in your diet to get the acclaim they deserve.
The following is our list of under-appreciated antioxidant powerhouses.
While pistachios are best known for their healthy fats, they also contain a class of antioxidants call flavonoids that have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
You know what else is great about pistachios?
You get to eat twice as many per ounce than any other nut.
So dig in and enjoy them as a healthy snack.
The simplest way to maximize antioxidant levels is to follow a diet high in antioxidant nutrition!
Mushrooms are a great low-calorie food (only 15 calories per c.) that also contain Vitamin-D.
Even though they're not deep red, purple, or blue (the colors we often associate with antioxidant-rich foods), mushrooms contain high levels of a unique antioxidant called ergothioneine.
Ergothioneine is a powerful free radical fighter that some scientists say may be used to treat cancer and AIDs in the future.
Ergothioneine is also the reason why mushroom extract is used in many skincare products.
Choose oyster mushrooms: They contain the highest levels of ergothioneine.
A cup of java in the morning delivers more than a shot of caffeine, it's packed with free radical fighters as well.
Coffee contains something called chlorogenic acid, which may be responsible for its ability to prevent the oxidation of your bad cholesterol (oxidation makes your bad cholesterol worse).
Remember that coffee itself is calorie free, and it only starts to negatively impact your health and waistline when you add sweetened syrups, sugar, and gobs of whipped cream.
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are best known for their high levels of the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
One Tbs. of flaxseed oil contains more than 6 g. of ALA, while 2 Tbs. of ground flaxseeds have 3 g.
Nutritionally speaking, flax is much more than just a dose of ALA.
It also contains free radical fighters called lignans.
Two Tbs. of flaxseed meal contains up to 300 mg. of lignans while 1 Tbs. of the oil has 30 mg.
Research shows that lignans help fight inflammation by lowering C-reactive protein (a blood marker of general inflammation), and they might also help lower cholesterol levels.
When you think of free radical fighters, you probably don't picture grains.
The processing and refinement of grains strips them of their nutritional merit, but if you eat grains in their unrefined form, you’re in for an added health benefit.
Barley contains ferulic acid (if you can get your hands on black barley that's even better).
Ferulic acid was shown in animals to decrease the negative effects on the brain following a stroke.
Barley is a great replacement for rice or quinoa in your diet.
Green tea gets all the buzz, but black tea packs an equal health punch in its own way.
Although green tea contains high levels of EGCG, an antioxidant that when combined with caffeine can help you lose weight, black tea contains high levels of the free radical fighter gallic acid, which may help fight cancer by preventing its spread from one organ to another.
Black tea requires a slightly different preparation than green tea.
For the perfect black tea brew, bring the water to a full boil and then steep for three to five minutes.
Red wine, acai berries and pomegranates are all known for their high levels of the free radical fighters called anthocyanins.
That is what gives these foods their deep red color.
So perhaps it's not so surprising that red and purple cabbage is another great source.
Anthocyanins can help improve the health and youthfulness of your blood vessels, warding off heart disease.
And if your dose of anthocyanins comes from cabbage, you'll get the added benefit of glucosinolates, another free radical fighter that may help cells fight against cancer.
One c. of red cabbage contains less than 30 calories and has 2 g. of stay-full fiber.
Several spices and herbs are well known for their high antioxidant content.
Cinnamon contains free radical fighters that help control blood sugar, while turmeric's brand of antioxidants fight inflammation.
Rosemary is no different, it just flies under the radar.
Research suggest that a free radical fighter in rosemary called carnosol may play a role in warding off Alzheimer’s disease while also acting as the driving nutrient behind rosemary oil’s effects on improving memory.
To make a simple, brain-boosting marinade, soak chicken in three Tbs. of fresh chopped rosemary, 1/4 c. of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt.
It makes for one unforgettable meal.
When eggs make headlines, it usually has to do with their cholesterol content.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two free radical fighters found in the yolk of eggs (another reason to eat the whole egg) that may help prevent age-related vision problems.
At only 70 calories and 6 g. of protein a piece, you can easily account for whole eggs in your healthy diet.
Avocados are known for their high levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (1/2 an avocado contains 8 g.).
But here’s an insider tip: Foods that are high in unsaturated fats are usually high in antioxidants too.
Mother Nature puts these free radical fighters there to prevent the fats from oxidizing.
Avocados are no exception, as they contain a group called polyphenols.
For a double dose of free radical fighters, enjoy your guacamole with salsa.
Research shows this combination leads to a greater absorption of carotenoids (vitamin-A, like antioxidants) from the tomatoes in salsa.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the anti-cancer effects of broccoli.
The driving force behind broccoli's anti-cancer mechanisms comes from a group of free radical fighters called isothiocyanates.
Broccoli contains two of the most potent isothiocyanates, sulforaphane and erucin.
Broccoli is also low calorie (30 calories per c.) and fibrous (2.5 g. per c.), which makes it a filling weight loss food.
Another unlikely antioxidant powerhouse, artichokes contain free radical fighters that might help prevent cancer.
Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that artichokes scored higher than raspberries, strawberries, and cherries in total free radical fighting capacity per serving.
One c. of cooked artichoke hearts delivers 7 g. of fiber for less than 50 calories.
Here are a number of easy ways to boost your free radical fighting intake.
1. A small glass of 100% fruit juice is the perfect energizing start to your day.
Vary your juices to balance your nutrient intake.
Try the usual orange and grapefruit juice and the not-so-usual pomegranate and blueberry.
2. Top eggs with your favorite store-bought salsa.
3. Add sautéed mushrooms, onions, red and yellow bell peppers, or tomatoes to omelets.
4. Slice peaches, bananas, strawberries, or other fresh fruit onto your cereal.
5. Mix dried cranberries or raisins into your oatmeal.
6. Toss frozen fruit, low-fat yogurt and nutmeg or sweetener in a blender for a quick out-the-door breakfast
7. Thread some pineapple, nectarines, bell peppers, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes in with your chicken or steak kabobs.
8. Add canned or frozen vegetables to soups.
9. Build your own veggie pizza.
Top a plain cheese pie with spinach, fresh herbs like basil and tarragon, bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, or small pineapple cubes.
10. Use spaghetti squash in place of pasta.
11. Add zucchini, green beans or eggplant to your favorite jarred spaghetti sauce.
12. Pack pasta and potato salads with extra veggies.
Be colorful and toss in broccoli, red bell peppers, carrots, and purple onion.
13. Perk up a dull green salad with nuts, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, pomegranate seeds, apple slices, red beans, or jarred artichokes.
14. One to two days a week, wash, chop and separate raw veggies into plastic bags.
You’ll have carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, bell peppers, celery, zucchini, and more antioxidant-packed foods readily available to toss into salads or add to casseroles.
15. Sneak in some extra
For example, thicken traditional chili or a favorite soup with a can of mashed white beans.
No one will know they’re there.
16. Top nachos with kidney beans.
17. Mix apples, grapes and walnuts in your chicken salad.
Try white beans and diced carrots in tuna salad.
18. Add fresh herbs to salads.
When using them in hot food, add them toward the end of cooking.
19. Learn to cook with the most antioxidant-rich herbs and spices such as ground clove, dried oregano, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, turmeric powder, dried basil, ground mustard seed, curry powder, paprika, and chili powder.
20. Put individual servings of grapes, cherries or raw veggies into small plastic bags.
Keep them at eye level in the refrigerator, not tucked behind the leftover takeout.
Grabbing a high-fiber, antioxidant-packed snack should be as easy as grabbing a bag of chips.
21. Mix berries and nuts into nonfat yogurt.
22. Keep an old breath mint tin filled with nuts.
Pull it out when you’re stuck in traffic and in need of an energy boost.
23. Add a variety of dried fruit to trail mix.
Out and About
24. In restaurants, start your meal with a vegetable or bean soup or a colorful mixed salad.
25. Swap the fries for a side salad or steamed vegetables.
26. Ask for extra veggies on sandwiches.
27. Bring five pieces of fruit to work every Monday for a different snack each day of the week.
28. If you’re unexpectedly out at lunchtime, run by the grocery store instead of the drive-through.
Pick up a prepared salad and piece of fruit.
(See related article:
Salad-Bars ~ Survival Tips)
Sip Your Antioxidants
29. Drink brewed black or green tea.
Tea is our best source of a class of compounds called catechins, which are potent antioxidants.
Green tea tea contains three times the catechins as black tea.
Brew it up at home; bottled tea doesn’t offer the same health benefits.
30. Sip on vegetable juice, plain or with some hot sauce for extra kick.
I've mentioned that in many of our Newsletters.
31. Spice up your hot tea with antioxidant-rich ground cloves and cinnamon.
32. Enjoy a glass of red wine.
Moderate drinking is linked with reduced rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Some scientists credit resveratrol for these positive effects.
Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women, two per day for men.
33. Have a mug of brewed coffee as your early morning or midday energizer.
Be careful what you put in it, though.
Those lattes and mochas can turn coffee into a sugar and fat fest.
34. Opt for one of these antioxidant-rich juices: Acai, grape, pomegranate, cranberry, pineapple, kiwi, and orange.
Or mix and match these juices for your own unique blend.
35. Skewer some fresh berries, grapes and peach slices for a fun dessert.
36. Top ice cream with berries or pomegranate seeds.
37. Freeze fresh grapes for a delicious, all-natural frozen dessert.
38. For a sophisticated dessert that does antioxidant double duty, dip strawberries, pineapple cubes, and sliced apples and bananas into a dark chocolate fondue.
39. Make ice-pops from any 100% fruit juice.
40. Indulge in small amounts of dark chocolate or cocoa without guilt.
Like tea, chocolate and cocoa contain catechins.
Research suggests that chocolate may help prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, thus improving your risk for cardiovascular disease.
So now you're up to date on the hero's of anti-aging, the free radical fighters.Tweet
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