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13 antioxidant foods and how to enjoy them


Lisa Guy shares 13 antioxidant foods and how to enjoy them

Credit: Adolfo Felix

Antioxidants tend to be most plentiful in plant foods (although there are exceptions, such as wild salmon). Often the antioxidants are the pigments that give fruit and vegetables their colour. It’s one of nature’s great synergies that these colourful chemicals serve not only the plant but also humans who eat the plant. To understand why antioxidants are so crucial for good health we first need to see how some other chemicals known as free radicals affect you.

Cell-damaging free radicals

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that travel around the body, attaching and binding to other molecules. This starts a destructive chain reaction, turning any molecule they come in contact with into an unstable free radical. Free radicals cause damage to proteins, DNA and other cells throughout the body.

When free radicals accumulate, oxidative stress occurs, which is associated with the development of chronic diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, heart disease, inflammatory conditions, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Free radicals building up in the body over time is also one of the major causes of ageing. Free radicals break down collagen and decrease the skin’s suppleness and elasticity, which leads to wrinkles and premature skin ageing.

What causes free radicals

Various environmental and dietary factors can increase the presence of destructive free radicals. These include over-exposure to sunlight, environmental pollutants like exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke, stress and eating a typical Western diet rich in processed, sugary and deep-fried foods. Free radicals are also natural by-products of chemical processes in the body, such as metabolism.

The more antioxidant-rich foods you consume each day from high-quality organic wholefoods the better your health will be and the lower your risk of disease.

You can help reduce your free radical load by choosing to buy organic produce and skincare products, avoid using chemical household cleaning products and look at ways to reduce and manage your stress through regular exercise, yoga and meditation. The best way, however, to fight free radicals is to eat a wholesome diet rich in colourful fresh fruits and vegetables that are abundant in a variety of protective antioxidant compounds.

How antioxidants offer protection

It’s the job of antioxidants to neutralise free radicals before they cause any damage to cells. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from reacting with other molecules, breaking that destructive free radical chain reaction.

Antioxidants protect healthy cells while stopping the growth of malignant cells. They help strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, support liver detoxification and promote cardiovascular health. Antioxidants also help slow down the ageing process, helping to keep skin more youthful looking.

Adding raw broccoli sprouts to meals is an easy way to give your body an antioxidant boost.

Your body makes a number of important antioxidants like glutathione, but you need larger amounts of antioxidants to keep free radicals under control. This is why you need a constant supply of antioxidants obtained through the diet from wholefoods such as berries, dark-green leafy vegetables, avocadoes, tomatoes and green tea to keep free radicals in check. As you age, your body’s natural production of antioxidants also starts to decline, making an antioxidant-rich diet even more vital for older people.

Some of the most potent antioxidant nutrients supplied through the diet include carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin), resveratrol, vitamins A, C and E, lycopene, selenium, flavonoids, quercetin and astaxanthin. Other key antioxidants include alpha-lipoic acid, CoQ10 and glutathione.

13 ANTIOXIDANT FOODS

The more antioxidant-rich foods you consume each day from high-quality organic wholefoods the better your health will be and the lower your risk of disease. Here are some of the top antioxidant-rich foods you can choose from to boost your antioxidant status. Later, we’ll look at some delicious recipes to help get those antioxidants in your diet.

Broccoli sprouts

Broccoli sprouts are little nutritional powerhouses, full of cell-protective antioxidants including vitamins C and A. Broccoli sprouts also contain high levels of sulforaphane, a powerful antioxidant compound that helps fight cancer, reduces inflammation and supports healthy liver detoxification.

Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is a super antioxidant made by your body and is one of your most important anti-ageing compounds. SOD helps fight damaging superoxide free radicals that lead to cell death and ageing. The good news is that broccoli and broccoli sprouts are among the best SOD boosters available.

Adding raw broccoli sprouts to meals is an easy way to give your body an antioxidant boost. They can be easily and cheaply grown at home or you can buy broccoli sprout powder to add to smoothies and fresh juices.

Berries

Berries contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of all fruits and vegetables, especially those with dark-coloured skins such as blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, elderberries and super purple berries, maqui and acai. Their vibrant red, blue and purple colours signify the presence of an important group of antioxidants called anthocyanins. Berries are also excellent sources of vitamin C. Berries are best enjoyed with Bircher muesli, porridge, mixed through yoghurt or in smoothies, salads and raw desserts.

Wild salmon

Astaxanthin is a type of super marine carotenoid that’s found naturally in wild salmon. Astaxanthin is responsible for giving salmon its characteristic reddish-pink colour and is one of the most powerful antioxidants, said to have 54 times the antioxidant powers of beta-carotene and 65 times that of vitamin C, which are both some of our most potent free-radical-fighting nutrients. Astaxanthin can cross the blood-brain barrier and has been found to help offer protection from cataracts, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Cacao

Chocolate, when in its raw cacao form, has many wonderful health benefits including promoting heart and cardiovascular health. Polyphenols, which are antioxidants found in cacao, can prevent LDL cholesterol from clogging arteries, while lowering total cholesterol and reducing blood pressure. Good-quality dark chocolate contains higher levels of these polyphenols compared to milk varieties. Raw cacao powder can be used to make delicious healthy chocolate raw desserts, cakes, protein balls and chocolate smoothies.

Avocado

Avocadoes are a super fruit loaded with important antioxidant nutrients needed for disease prevention. Avocadoes contain high levels of carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin, which are required for healthy eyes and vision and for prevention of degenerative eye conditions such as macular degeneration. The dark-green parts of the avocado nearest the skin contain the highest levels of carotenoids and the most antioxidant punch.

Avocadoes are particularly rich in vitamin E. We need this beneficial nutrient to prevent heart disease and cancer and to boost immune function. Avocadoes are also one of the best natural sources of glutathione, considered the body’s master antioxidant, which plays a key role in liver detoxification and immune health. Most of your glutathione is produced in the body from amino acids glutamine, glycine and cysteine, but it’s also necessary to increase levels through dietary sources. Avocadoes are the perfect addition to salads, grainy toast, green smoothies, salad dressings, raw desserts and nutritious dips like guacamole.

Green tea

Green tea is rich in polyphenols, namely catechins and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which are powerful antioxidants. Drinking green tea regularly is associated with a reduced risk of high cholesterol, stroke and cancer. EGCG slows collagen and elastin breakdown and can help regenerate ageing surface skin cells. These are two important proteins in the skin that give it strength, tone and elasticity. Aim to drink at least three cups of good-quality organic green tea to reap the full health benefits.

Grapefruit

This popular citrus fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which are powerful free radical scavengers that help promote a strong immune system and radiant skin. Vitamin C is needed for collagen production and helps reduce premature skin ageing and skin damage caused by UV sun exposure.

Like other citrus fruits, grapefruit are high in a flavonoid called limonoid, which has been found to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Fresh pink or red grapefruits contain higher levels of antioxidants compared to other varieties. Pink and red grapefruits contain anthocyanins and the antioxidant lycopene, which is known for its ability to lower the risk of prostate cancer. Choose fully ripe grapefruit as they have the highest levels of antioxidants.

Some delicious ways to enjoy grapefruit are sliced and tossed through salads and fruit salads, and blended into vegie juices. The rind is abundant in antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, so use grapefruit zest to decorate cakes, desserts or salads for extra antioxidant goodness.

Note: Grapefruit can increase the side-effects of a large number of medications, so check with your healthcare practitioner.

Pomegranate

Pomegranates contain many powerful antioxidant nutrients. Including pomegranates in the diet regularly can boost collagen production and help support healthy eyes and vision due to their high vitamin C and vitamin A content. This beautiful red fruit is abundant in polyphenols, anthocyanins and ellagic acid, which are all potent antioxidants that help protect skin cells from free radical damage caused by sun exposure. Try tossing pomegranate through salads or muesli, or mix the seeds through yoghurt for a healthy snack.

Tomatoes

Red tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene you’ll find. Lycopene is a type of carotenoid found in red fruits that has powerful antioxidant and anti-cancerous properties. This extremely efficient antioxidant is effective in warding off heart disease and several types of cancers, in particular prostate cancer.

Fresh tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, but cooked tomato products such as pastes, sauces and soups are more concentrated and even more effective. One cup of tomato soup contains seven times more of the antioxidant lycopene than one fresh tomato.

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts are different from other nuts as they have exceptionally high levels of selenium, a trace mineral that’s essential for good health but required only in small amounts. Selenium has strong antioxidant properties that can help prevent cellular damage from free radicals that contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Just one Brazil nut a day can supply you with more than the daily requirement of selenium, with about 95mcg per nut. Brazil nuts are also a good source of glutathione and vitamin E.

Turmeric

The super spice turmeric contains an active compound called curcumin, which has been studied extensively for its powerful antioxidant properties. Turmeric has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Some delicious ways to enjoy turmeric are in a mango smoothie or turmeric latte, as a tea with some ginger and lemon, or added to steamed rice, curries, lentil dhals, salad dressings or scrambled eggs.

Kale

Kale is a brassica vegetable that’s packed with phytochemicals that help combat free radicals and reduce the risk of cancers and other chronic diseases. Green leafy vegetables like kale provide the important carotenoid antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants are beneficial for protecting the eyes from age-related diseases like macular degeneration and vision loss. Kale and other brassica vegetables are also excellent sources of sulphur compounds needed to make glutathione. Kale is also abundant in vitamin C, beta-carotene and selenium.

The best way to enjoy kale is chopped and massaged with a little olive oil and lemon juice then tossed through a salad. Try adding kale to green juices, frittatas, soups, stews or stir-fries. Make pesto using half kale and half basil or try oven-baked kale chips as a snack.

Purple & red grapes

Purple and red grapes contain resveratrol, which has been studied extensively for its health-promoting and anti-ageing properties. Known as the “fountain of youth”, it’s a potent antioxidant that occurs naturally in several plants in response to stress, attack by bacteria or fungi, or ultraviolet radiation. Resveratrol can also help reduce the risk of cancer, improve heart health and lower inflammation. Red wine contains high levels of resveratrol.

ANTIOXIDANT-RICH RECIPES

Green Tea Smoothie 

Ingredients

Method

  • Handful baby spinach
  • 2 stalks kale, ribs removed
  • 1 green pear
  • ½ green apple
  • ½ large avocado
  • ½ cucumber
  • Juice 1 lemon
  • ½ bunch mint
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 cup chilled organic green tea
  1. Place ingredients in a blender and pulse until well combined.
  2. Add more water if you like a thinner consistency.
  3. Pour into a glass, add some ice and enjoy.

Kale and Pomegranate Salad 

Ingredients

Method

  • ½ cup quinoa, rinsed well
  • ½ bunch kale, finely chopped
  • Juice ½ lemon
  • Splash cold-pressed olive oil
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Handful raw almonds
  • Handful pumpkin & sunflower seeds
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp chilli flakes
  • Handful fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • Handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • Juice & zest 1 orange
  • 1 pomegranate
  1. Wash quinoa well to remove bitter coating, then in a separate medium saucepan add quinoa and 1 cup of water. Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes, until quinoa is light and fluffy.
  2. While the quinoa is cooking, wash kale and remove steams, then cut the leaves into thin strips. Place the kale in a bowl and cover with lemon juice, a splash of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Massage the kale for a few minutes until it goes lovely and soft.
  3. In a frying pan with a little olive oil, toss nuts and seeds with paprika and chilli until they start to go golden-brown. Put aside in a small bowl to cool.
  4. In a salad bowl, add kale, quinoa, mint, coriander, nuts and seeds. Pour over orange juice and toss until well combined. Add pomegranate and gently toss through. Top with some more nuts and seeds and some orange zest.



 

Lisa Guy

Lisa Guy is a respected Sydney-based naturopath, author and passionate foodie with 16 years of clinical experience. She runs a naturopathic clinic in Rose Bay called Art of Healing and is the founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.

Lisa is a great believer that good wholesome food is one of the greatest pleasures in life and the foundation of good health. Lisa encourages her clients to get back to eating what nature intended: good, clean, wholesome food that’s nutrient-rich and free from high levels of sugars, harmful fats, artificial additives and pesticides. Her aim is to change the way people eat, cook and think about food.

Lisa is an avid health writer, being a regular contributor to The Sunday Telegraph's Body and Soul, and leading magazines including WellBeing. Lisa is an author of five books to date, including My Goodness: all you need to know about children’s health and nutrition , Pregnancy Essentials, Heal Yourself, Listen to your Body and Healthy Skin Diet .