‘Antioxidant’ has become a widely used term in the health world over the last decade, yet most people don’t understand how they work and what they do. These substances, found in food and supplements, are an important part of cellular health linked to lower risk of conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and cancer, as well as a slower rate of aging. Therefore, it’s important to understand what they are, how they work, and, most importantly, how to get a healthy dose in your diet!
Antioxidants and Free Radicals
In order to understand antioxidants, you need to start with free radicals.
While we depend on oxygen to live it is also a highly reactive atom that has the potential to generate free radicals. Too many free radicals — unstable atoms that attack healthy cells — causes oxidative stress, which negatively changes proteins, lipids, and DNA leading to disease and even severe disorders, such as cancer and heart disease.
Antioxidants are substances that protect against free radical cell damage by counteracting the negative effects of free radicals. They accomplish this by sacrificing an electron, which helps to stabilize the atom reducing their harmful nature. With that said, the human body needs both free radicals and antioxidants, and it’s this careful balance that keeps us healthy, slows down aging, and can ward off potential diseases.
Antioxidants and Prevention
While high levels of oxidative stress are linked to a myriad of conditions including certain cancers, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, vasculitis, and lupus, heart disease, stroke, and neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and muscular dystrophy, a balanced level of antioxidants has shown to lower your risk for certain conditions. By nature, antioxidants decrease oxidative stress.
A few of the most powerful disease-fighting antioxidants include beta-carotene, — orange, red, and yellow pigment found in vegetables such as carrots and peppers that the human body converts into Vitamin A — Vitamin C, — a water-soluble vitamin — and Vitamin E — a group of fat-soluble compounds. Each of these antioxidants fights free radicals in specific ways, while also supporting bodily systems necessary for fighting disease including the immune system, metabolism function, and antibodies, to name just a few.
Getting as Much as Possible: Antioxidant Daily Menu
Antioxidants can be either man-made, via supplements, or natural via the food we eat. With that said, the best way to get the right quantity and variety of antioxidants is through diet. Once you know which foods are antioxidant rich, it’s super easy to boost your intake of these preventative substances.
Breakfast Chocolate and Fruit “Zoats”/One Green Planet
When it comes to an antioxidant-rich breakfast think berries. Cranberries, goji berries, wild blueberries, elderberries, and blackberries all offer high levels of antioxidants, also referred to as an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) unit, an antioxidant food value expression. Start the day off with a healthy dose of your favorite oatmeal, porridge, or cereal topped with a handful of these delicious berries. Also, try adding a dash of cinnamon to your morning meal. Cinnamon is one of the best antioxidant-rich spices.
Here are a few berry-focused or easily added breakfast recipes to get you started on your antioxidant-filled day: Breakfast Chocolate and Fruit “Zoats”, Quinoa Crepes, or this 3-Ingredient Berry Cereal.
Kale, Beet, and Pecan Salad With Ginger Dressing/One Green Planet
It’s easy to skip or completely forget eating lunch, especially with a busy schedule. Therefore, try to pack in your mid-day antioxidants with various snacks instead of a large meal. Grab a handful of pecans or toss a half cup of kidney beans on top of your salad. Both of these food items rank high in ORAC units. Another great option is herb and spice heavy smoothies. Herbs such as turmeric, ginger, and cocoa also rank high on the ORAC scoreboard.
Try prepping these easy, quick, and sweet lunch recipes ahead of time: High-Protein Kidney Bean Brownies, Chili Wonton Cups, Turmeric Glow Lemonade, Winter Citrus Smoothie, Homemade Ginger Beer, Kale, Beet, and Pecan Salad With Ginger Dressing, or these Healthy Peanut Butter Chocolate Caramel Oat Bars.
Smoked Tofu and Artichoke Spinach Sandwich/One Green Planet
The final meal of the day is usually the one we focus on the most, so take advantage of your undivided attention in the evenings! Try focusing on antioxidant powerhouses such as cilantro, basil, thyme, and oregano for your evening recipes. If you’re looking for veggies and fillers that pack a punch of antioxidants, try boiled artichoke, russet potatoes, or a healthy helping of black beans.
Take the time to dig into your dinner preparation! Make it easier by starting out with a few of these simple antioxidant focused recipes: Veggie Summer Rolls With Spicy Garlic Peanut Sauce, Spicy Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup, Herb-and-Nut-Encrusted Cheese Log, Artichoke and Olive Spaghetti, or this Smoked Tofu and Artichoke Spinach Sandwich.
Chocolate Peanut Butter and Raspberry Chia Jam Cups/One Green Planet
Take your menu full circle by enjoying some of those antioxidant-rich berries as a sweet delight after dinner. Also, think about incorporating some dark chocolate, which is also rich in antioxidants. Here are a few ideas to get you salivating: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and Raspberry Chia Jam Cups, Berries and Plum Crumble, or this Blackberry Lavender Ice Cream.
For a host of additional antioxidant-rich recipes, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Smoked Tofu and Artichoke Spinach Sandwich/