Our body is constantly under attack by what’s known as free radicals. Without getting into too much detail, free radicals are formed within the body when oxygen molecules split leaving leaving two oxygen atoms, each with a single, unpaired electron. Once separated, these atoms are desperately trying to become more stable so they steal electrons from other molecules within your body in a highly damaging process known as oxidation, causing you to age faster than you otherwise would if your body wasn’t under attack by these pesky free radicals. The worst part is, even the healthiest of us still fall victim to free radicals as many are internally generated by everyday metabolic activities such phagocytosis which is a natural process of the immune system) as well as by mitochondria (a key component of our body’s cells).
However, as hopeless as this all sounds, the battle is not lost, and this is where antioxidants come into play. Antioxidants literally do what they say on the tin, they inhibit oxidation of cells, reducing cell damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants can be found in many of your everyday fruit, vegetables and grains meaning you can incorporate them into your diet without too much hassle. Let me take take you through a few of the best sources of antioxidants you should be including in your diet.
Key sources of antioxidants
If you want to improve your antioxidant levels, berries are a great place to start. The rich red, purple and black colours found in berries and currants such as cherry, strawberry, blackberry and blackcurrant is because of a group of antioxidant phytochemicals called anthocyanins. Bilberries in particular contain 15 different anthocyanins, packing a huge antioxidant punch. In addition to their antioxidant properties, bilberries are also thought to benefit the eyes in a range of ways including tackling macular degeneration which is why we’ve included bilberry in our Eye Complex 7.
Another great antioxidant-rich fruit is red grapes. The skin of red grapes (Carle et al., 2004 is jam-packed with anthocyanins, catechin, gallic acid and resveratrol (Carle et al., 2004). Grapes have been reported to reduce LDL oxidation which supports the idea that including grapes in the diet may reduce the chances of cardiovascular diseases (Frankel et al., 1998). Due to the high antioxidant value and anti-aging properties of grapes, we’ve included them in our Resveratrol Pro Q10.
The antioxidant phytochemicals in apples include previously mentioned anthocyanins as well as a host of other phytochemical groups such as catechin, procyanidins and flavonols. Recent research indicates that the consumption of apples has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, as the saying goes, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But remember, since most of the antioxidant value is in the flesh of apples, drinking apple juice won’t give you nearly as much benefit. Apple flesh contains between 0.5% and 2.7% antioxidants whereas juice only contains between 0.02% and 0.1% antioxidant value.
Tomatoes have long been recognized as a great source of provitamin A, ascorbic acid, vitamin C as well as beta-carotene. Ascorbic acid and beta-carotene are known antioxidants with free radical scavenging properties, however another antioxidant called Lycopene, also contained within the humble tomato and responsible for its red appearance, has even greater antioxidant powers. Lycopene has been reported to counteract free radicals twice as efficiently as beta-carotene, making it one of the strongest antioxidants among the carotenoids.
Following on from tomatoes, root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots are also rich in carotenoids, however anthocyanins are also present root veg with intense purple colours. While carrots in their natural form do not contain a great deal of antioxidants, once boiled this significantly increases. In terms of potatoes, the skin is where most of the antioxidant goodness is found including the phytochemicals gallic and caffeic acids, something to consider next time you’re preparing spuds for your roast dinner.
As well as being a delicious addition to foods, recent research has shown that culinary herbs also have medicinal properties, one of which being their free radical busting activity. Studies have confirmed the antioxidant power of herbs such as sage, oregano and rosemary and basil particularly in tackling chronic diseases. Due to this research, we’ve included holy basil in our Adaptogen Complex 6 for added health benefits.
Soybean is a popular food high protein value, however it has been shown to have a number of other positive impacts. Research indicates that soy may have benefits for your heart, brain and bone health and help combat chronic illnesses. The major antioxidant contained within soybean is isoflavones, coming in at 0.5%, the highest level of all beans. Be careful though, not all soybean products are equal, with soy oil only containing a fraction of the antioxidants compared to the bean itself.
Seeram, N. P. (2010). Recent Trends and Advances in Berry Health Benefits Research. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(7), pp 3869–3870. https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf902806j
Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy reviews, 4(8), 118-26.
Howard, L. R., & Xu, Z . (Eds). (2012). Analysis of Antioxidant-Rich Phytochemicals. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.; Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell.