Antioxidants are all the rage today. And, justifiably so. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals which cause cell damage, which ultimately can lead to diseases of the heart and cancer. It seems everywhere you go it's blueberry this and blueberry that. You have your choice of wild blueberry juice, blueberry-pomegranate juice, blueberry-cranberry juice, and so on and so on.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love blueberries. But, in our rush to embrace the latest antioxidant food craze (blueberries, cranberries, pomegranates) we’re ignoring some very high-antioxidant foods that are probably sitting ignored in our cupboards.
Well, let’s start with a little background on what antioxidants are and why they’re so important. Antioxidants are molecules that help neutralize oxidative stress in the body. So, what does that mean? Think about the word oxidative, it sounds like oxidize. Growing up in the northeastern US, there is a lot of road salt used in the winter. This oxidizes or rusts cars and trucks quicker than if these salts were not present in say the Pacific Northwest.
So back to your body. You have what we call free radicals in your body. Free radicals range from environmental toxins like smoke, radiation, or heavy metals and also things you consume like alcohol saturated fats, and sugar. These atoms are unstable due to an incomplete outer shell of electrons. They wreak havoc on body cells including your DNA as they bounce around your body. The real damage comes when they straight up steal an electron from your body cells. Now you’ve got real damage to YOUR tissue. This can lead to illness and aging and has been linked to many forms of cancer and even heart disease.
OK, so what can I do about these unstable atoms. Finally back to our antioxidants. This is your repair crew that helps free radicals become stable.
So how do they work? Well, antioxidants give up one of their electrons to make free radicals more stable and less reactive. Then your body can process them for excretion.
Wait, if an antioxidant gives up a valance electron, doesn’t that make the antioxidant a free radical. Wow, you’re paying attention.
Yes, your antioxidant then becomes a free radical, however much less reactive than the atom it just donated to. But there is a solution to this. It’s more antioxidants and different ones.
For example, if vitamin E gives up an electron to neutralize oxidative stress caused by a free radical, ascorbic acid in vitamin C will then donate to the vitamin E and then beta carotene in vitamin A will donate to C and down the line. That’s why we want to eat the full rainbow of antioxidants. This is a system that feeds itself if you give it the proper fuel.
So where can I get antioxidants? We talked about berries, but I’ve got a surprise for you. I’ve got a food that’s higher in antioxidants than the almighty wild blueberry.
It’s the small red bean? That’s right, I said “bean.” The small red bean actually has more antioxidants per serving size than the wild blueberry. And the red kidney bean and pinto bean aren’t far behind. These beans usually accompany rice in cajun cooking but are great additions to soups, stews, chili, or as a side.
OK enough of the beans, what else do we have here.
What other foods are high in antioxidants? For starters, there are artichoke hearts, blackberries, plums, pecans, spinach, kale, and russet potatoes. And, no, that’s not a mistake. Russet potatoes are on the list of foods high in antioxidants. Potatoes have gotten a bad wrap in the zeitgeist but they are packed with nutrients.
The truth is, there are many common foods high in antioxidants and you should not just restrict yourself to one particular food source. Why? Well, have you ever heard the expression, “taste the rainbow?” No, I’m not talking skittles, I’m referring to foods that are in different color “families”. The foods in these different color families contain different types of antioxidants which have different benefits.
For example, the yellow-orange color family of peaches and nectarines help our immune systems. The purple-red color family of foods (pomegranates, plums, berries) helps reduce inflammation.
The beans may have surprised you but I bet you knew blueberries and kale were good for you. But what about meat?
I’ll start with salmon because that one won’t shock you much. The antioxidant astaxanthin gives salmon its red pigment. This has been linked to improved blood flow, improved skin elasticity, and joint health. Astaxanthin is also being studied as a potential cancer treatment.
But what about the beef? In comes my favorite antioxidant, glutathione. Beef, chicken, and fish are great sources of glutathione which is considered the master antioxidant. It can recharge (share electrons with) all the other antioxidants. If you’re not a meat-eater, fear not, my favorite source of glutathione is in avocado but it’s also prevalent in cruciferous veggies (radish), asparagus, garlic, and onions.
The last one I’ll talk about today is selenium which is a sulfur-based compound. This is often taken as a supplement but I’d prefer you to source your selenium from brazil nuts, organ meats (liver, kidney), fish, and sea kelp.
The good news is that you can eat healthy foods high in antioxidants without having to pay a high price for the “flavor of the month” antioxidant juices being peddled at whole foods.
Eating a wide range of antioxidant-rich foods like those I’ve talked about today can help keep your body running as smoothly as possible. Try and get as much of your food from sustainable, local, and organic sources as possible. If you can grow, raise, hunt, or catch your own food, all the better.
So, give your blueberries some company at the dinner table. Invite some beans, spinach, salmon, potatoes, and artichoke hearts and taste the rainbow.
I’m Your Fitness Coach Carl and I hope this has been helpful.
If you’d like some guidance setting up a nutrition and/or workout plan, I can help with that. I’ll share a link below where you can schedule a call with me. I’ll hop on zoom with you and help you get started.