Loading up your plate with a variety of antioxidant-rich foods is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Antioxidants come with a long list of benefits, including protecting against premature aging, promoting youthful skin, supporting the immune system, fighting chronic diseases — the list goes on and on! And though you may be familiar with the term ‘antioxidants,’ you may not know exactly what they are (or what makes them so powerful). Considering they’re so powerful (and easy to obtain from a colorful plant-based and whole foods diet), we’re breaking down all you need to know!
What Are Antioxidants & Why Are They So Powerful?
What are antioxidants, exactly? Simply put, antioxidants are natural compounds found in many nutrient-rich foods that work to protect our bodies against free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that wreak havoc in the body, causing cell damage and contributing to things such as inflammation, chronic disease, and enhanced aging. While normal metabolic processes can contribute to free radical production, external factors — such as chronic stress, smoking, drugs, pesticides, and environmental pollutants — have been shown to increase free radical production in the body.
Luckily, by loading up on antioxidant-rich foods, you can help keep free radicals in check in order to prevent oxidative stress and cell damage.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the most powerful antioxidants. Plus, learn how to obtain them from your diet!
The Most Powerful Antioxidants & How To Obtain Them Through Your Diet
Best known for its heart-healthy benefits, resveratrol is a potent polyphenol antioxidant, or in simpler terms, a protective and powerful plant compound with antioxidant-rich benefits. As an antioxidant, resveratrol functions to combat oxidative stress from free radicals, promote longevity, support healthy aging, enhance skin health, provide immune support, benefit brain health, and enhance cardiovascular function. In terms of heart health, resveratrol has been shown to lower inflammation, reduce LDL cholesterol, and even protect against and improve symptoms of cardiovascular disease!
It’s found most abundantly in the skin and seeds of grapes, and berries, and it’s easy to obtain from various plant foods.
Foods rich in Resveratrol: Blueberries, grapes, bilberries, cacao and cocoa, dark chocolate, peanuts, pistachios
Also known as Coenzyme Q and COQ10, ubiquinone is a naturally occurring antioxidant in the body that helps to protect our brain, heart, and muscles. Most abundantly found in the mitochondria (i.e., the powerhouse) of our cells, it’s involved in various biochemical reactions and plays an important role in energy production. Rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, COQ10 has been shown to be beneficial for heart health.
Foods rich in COQ10: Fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel), poultry and beef, nuts and seeds (such as sesame seeds, pistachios, and peanuts), and various fruits and veggies (such as parsley, broccoli, spinach, avocado, grapes, oranges)
Most abundant in cruciferous veggies such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, Sulforaphane is an antioxidant and sulfur-rich plant compound with a wide range of health benefits. Sulforaphane strongly defends against oxidative stress, it may reduce inflammation, and according to research, sulforaphane helps support cardiovascular and gut health.
Foods rich in sulforaphane: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, kale
Responsible for the red-orange pigment in various plant foods, beta carotene is the antioxidant found in various fruits and veggies such as pumpkins, carrots, and mangoes. With an important role in the body, beta carotene converts into vitamin A and is especially helpful for eye health, skin health, and healthy aging. Plus, with protective antioxidant properties, it’s been shown to support cognitive health and enhance immune support.
Foods rich in Beta Carotene: Carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, red bell peppers, spinach, dark leafy greens, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe
One of the better-known antioxidants, anthocyanins, are polyphenol antioxidants with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Found in various fruits and veggies, anthocyanins are the plant compound responsible for giving red, blue, and purple-hued plants their deep, rich color. Particularly powerful for heart health.
Foods rich in Anthocyanins: Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, black elderberries, pomegranates, red grapes, red onions, red cabbages, purple eggplant, black beans, black rice
A type of antioxidant found most abundant in tea, cocoa, and berries, catechins are a type of flavonoid that packs an anti-inflammatory punch, helps fight free radical damage, and protects against chronic disease. With research showing its beneficial effects on weight loss, cognitive function, longevity, and chronic disease, you’ll surely want to load up on these tasty catechin-rich compounds!
Foods rich in Catechins: Green tea, black tea, apples, blackberries, cocoa, dark chocolate, red wine, cherries, almonds
We all know of Turmeric as a superstar superfood. But, do you know the active ingredient that makes it so powerful? The antioxidant-rich compound, curcumin! Curcumin is loaded with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
How to Add More Curcumin to Your Diet: It’s as simple as loading up your diet with turmeric!
Here are some ideas:
- Make a golden milk latte
- Drink an herbal turmeric tea
- Add fresh or powdered turmeric to your curry or stir fry
- Blend it into your smoothie or make a fresh juice
- Sprinkle it on your veggies
Another plant-based compound with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits is quercetin. With wide-ranging benefits, quercetin is particularly powerful in modulating the immune system, protecting against allergies, and fighting inflammation. Though widely available in supplement form, quercetin can also be found in a number of delicious foods!
Foods rich in Quercetin: Citrus, apples, onions, red wine, black and green tea, dark-hued berries and cherries, parsley, sage
Closely related to beta-carotene and vitamin A, lutein is an antioxidant best known for eye and skin health. From protecting against macular degeneration and maintaining optimal vision to reducing signs of aging and protecting against UV-sun damage, lutein comes with many benefits, thanks to its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods rich in Lutein: Dark leafy greens (like kale, spinach, and collard greens), corn, broccoli, eggs, papaya, oranges
A popular plant-based compound found largely in red and pink foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and watermelon, Lycopene is a potent antioxidant with many benefits. As part of the carotenoid family, lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient with some of the highest antioxidant capabilities to exist! It protects against natural and environmental toxins, supports liver function, and contains neuroprotective properties.
Foods rich in Lycopene: Tomatoes, rosehips, guava, pink grapefruit, papaya, apricots
As an essential trace mineral, selenium is an important antioxidant compound that must be obtained through the diet (though only needed in small amounts). Like most antioxidants, it helps reduce oxidative stress. But unique to selenium is its important role in thyroid health. It helps regulate your metabolism, supports healthy growth and development, and helps to maintain proper thyroid function.
Foods rich in Selenium: Brazil nuts, oysters, eggs, sunflower seeds, shiitake mushrooms
Important for immune health, reproductive health, and healthy eyes and skin, vitamin A is a must-have antioxidant needed for whole body health and development. Vitamin A is important for vision health, helps support healthy growth and development, supports immune health, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Foods rich in Vitamin A: Kale, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, egg yolks, mango, pumpkin, winter squash, fatty fish
As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps to protect against free radical damage and environmental toxins, supports glowing skin, bolsters our immune system, and may help reduce the severity and duration of illness — the list goes on! Despite the many supplements on the market, obtaining vitamin C through your diet is easier than ever.
Foods rich in Vitamin C: Citrus, kiwi, mangoes, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, spinach
A fat-soluble vitamin with powerful antioxidant properties, vitamin E is an important nutrient needed to reduce oxidative stress, benefit skin, and eye health, and support a healthy immune system. And ladies, vitamin E may even help support hormone balance and ease PMS symptoms such as cramps and cravings — so you may want to keep these vitamin E-rich foods nearby!
Foods rich in Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, salmon, avocado, red bell peppers, brazil nuts, wheat germ
An important antioxidant for healthy immune function, zinc is an essential mineral that helps, prevent infections, and protect against pathogens and foreign invaders. Immune health aside, zinc is a powerful nutrient needed to speed wound healing and repair damaged tissues! So, if you’re looking to benefit your skin (for skin issues such as acne or eczema) or soothe your gut (think: damaged GI lining), this antioxidant may be for you!
Foods rich in Zinc: Pumpkin and hemp seeds, oysters, red meat, fish, almonds, oats, chickpeas
The number of antioxidant-like compounds is far-reaching, with endless amounts of phytonutrients in existence. That said, these fifteen antioxidants are some of the most potent and powerful out there! And best of all, they’re easy to obtain through a healthy diet. By simply loading up your plate with a wide variety of plant-based and wholesome nutrients (like colorful fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, and lean proteins), meeting your antioxidant needs is easy. And while there are tons of supplements on the market, it’s wise to prioritize dietary sources when possible! Antioxidants (and other nutrient compounds) tend to work best in their natural state, when combined with other plant compounds and chemicals.
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