You’ve been told to eat foods that are good for your stomach and those that protect your heart but what about replenishing the cells that make up these critical organs in our body? The buzzword is antioxidants. Let’s begin by understanding some basics.
Antioxidants are compounds or substances that naturally occur in certain fruits and vegetables. You may have heard of flavanols in chocolate, resveratrol in red wine, lycopene in tomatoes or beta-carotene in carrots. These are all different types of antioxidants.
They work to protect the cells by damage caused by oxidants. Oxidants, on the other hand, are free radicals that your body produces to defend itself against bacteria and viruses. When they become too many in number, they may start attacking and harming the cells and even put us at the risk of serious diseases like heart trouble and cancer. You may also encounter oxidants from the external environment from pollutants, smoke or alcohol. Antioxidants help the body by neutralising and removing these oxidants from your bloodstream.
It’s important to maintain the balance between antioxidants and oxidants in the body for good health. However, the free radicals or oxidants usually outnumber the antioxidants naturally produced in the body. Therefore, it is important to have a continuous supply of antioxidants from an external source to maintain this balance. Your diet is this external source and it must be packed with good quality antioxidants. This, in turn, provides other benefits like slowing down the signs of ageing, making your skin look youthful and lowering the risk of heart disease. A diet rich in antioxidants is also known to keep your brain active and your gut healthy. Needless to say, all these factors help in improving the quality and length of your life.
Here are seven antioxidant rich foods that you must eat regularly and add to your daily diet if you haven’t already:
1. Dark chocolate
Good news for all chocolate lovers! Chocolate is actually quite healthy so no need to feel guilty indulging in your chocolate love every now and then. Dark chocolates and cocoa pack a big antioxidant punch and are rich in flavanols and polyphenols. A popular study conducted by Harvard experts and published in the online Journal Heart suggests that is actually good for your heart especially, the one with 70% cocoa. Too much chocolate can, of course, add to you daily calorific intake so moderation is the key here.
2. Kidney beans
All kinds of beans – black, pinto, red and kidney beans are high-octane sources of antioxidants. Beans are also rich in muscle-boosting protein, have no cholesterol and little fat. Combing them with grains helps in making them a complete protein. Use them in salads, sandwiches. If you find them difficult to digest, drink a lot of fluids through the day.
If you’re looking to load up on antioxidants, have a handful of raisins. Dark raisins are packed with anthocyanins that give you an energy boost. Sprinkle them on your breakfast oats, throw them in a salad or blend some with your smoothie. Interestingly, raisins contain at least three times the amount of antioxidants as grapes
This ancient grain is trending again and for good reason. Barley is known for its powerful antioxidant properties that make you stronger from within. Also, it has been found that when grains like barley are soaked and sprouted the antioxidant levels increase. Moreover, they become more digestible and it is easier for the body to absorb their nutrients.
In the recent years, this humble vegetable has created a lot of noise because of its cancer-fighting antioxidants. Out of all the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli is one of the best sources of antioxidants like carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. The best way to have broccoli is to steam it. Remember that some antioxidants like Vitamin C are completely destroyed by heat while others like beta-carotene become more potent on cooking the vegetable.
Juicy tomatoes are packed with three types of antioxidants – Lycopene (that gives tomato its bright red colour), Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Vitamin C is one of the most potent kind of antioxidants that you can derive from fruits and vegetables. The lycopene in tomatoes is best absorbed when they are cooked.
Most nuts are super healthy and experts recommend that you must have at least a handful or 30 grams of nuts daily. Walnuts are cholesterol-free, low in sodium and loaded with antioxidants. They offer huge amounts of antioxidant – polyphenols.
It is also important to note that the cooking method greatly impacts the levels of antioxidants in these foods. According to the Journal of Food Science, griddles, microwaving and oven cause less antioxidant destruction in veggies as compared to frying, boiling or cooking in a pressure cooker.