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We often hear that you need to eat a ‘healthy diet’ to get the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Beyond that, you might also hear terms like phytonutrients, carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols and antioxidants. All of these carry incredible benefits too but few know what they offer individually. Let’s start with the easier or more known term, antioxidants. Do you know what antioxidants are? Why are they good for you? And what are some foods high in antioxidants?
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are chemicals that naturally occur in plant based foods. There are thousands of different types of compounds. You might know some already; beta-carotene, flavanols, resveratrol, lycopene, vitamin A, C, E. All of these are found in foods high in antioxidants!
Why are Antioxidants Good for you?
If you’ve heard of antioxidants you might have also heard of the term ‘free radicals’. Free radicals come from food and environmental sources and cause oxidation in our arteries and organs. The body also naturally produces free radicals to help fend off viruses and microbes, but if you have too many, they can cause serious damage and contribute to certain cancers and heart disease. Antioxidants protect against free radicals. As one definition of antioxidants purports, these substances inhibit oxidation and so counteract free radical damage in the boy. To be exact, free radicals are actually associated with cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging, and cause a multitude of diseases.
Given our busy stressful lifestyles, often poor diets and exposure to toxins, the number of free radicals can often outnumber the number of antioxidants consumed. This is why it is recommended to try and increase our intake of antioxidants from food and reduce our exposure in the environment. The benefits of antioxidants include:
- Slowing the signs of aging, including of the skin, eyes, tissue, joints, heart and brain
- Healthier, more youthful, glowing skin
- Reducing cancer risk
- Supporting the body’s natural ability to detoxify
- Protecting against heart disease and stroke
- Supporting cognitive health
- Supporting the body’s immune system
- Antioxidants are also added to food or household products to prevent oxidation and spoilage
Foods High in Antioxidants: ORAC Scale
Today, the level of antioxidants in any food is evaluated with an ORAC score. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity was developed by USDA researchers at Tufts University as a way to for people to understand antioxidant capacity of different types of foods a bit more clearly. It provides a direct measure of antioxidant content.. Think of the ORAC scale as a tool which can be used to choose the most powerful foods for health and can also help prevent diseases. It also makes it easy to compare foods; to see which foods are best when it comes to their antioxidant power. ORAC is important because, apart from disease prevention, measuring antioxidant benefits helps us to eat foods that help us to live longer.
Foods High in Antioxidants
Having looked at what antIoxidants are, it’s important to make the information practical. So with that, let’s look at some of the top rated fruits and vegetables on the ORAC scale. ORAC rated foods range from 82 to nearly 14,000 in ORAC value. One key to understanding ORAC scores is the comparisons. Comparisons of a cup and a teaspoon, for example, must be taken taking into account when determining what is reasonable to eat. For example, chocolate comes in at 13,120 ORAC, but that is for 100 grams of unsweetened cacao — an unrealistically high amount to be contained in a sweetened bar.
Simply by breathing, digesting, sitting upright and running for the bus, you actually expend energy, burn oxygen and, therefore, create free radicals. It’s good to use the scores to make better judgments and decisions about the foods you consume into your bodies.
Top foods with high ORAC values; fresh or fresh frozen berries, beans and lentils, apples, plums and pomegranates, nuts including walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts and many spices including cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon and ginger root.
When it comes to antioxidant nutrition, variety counts as much as quantity. It is important to eat a variety of healthy foods, not only for their antioxidant levels, but for their other nutritional properties as well. Just eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to get most of what you need, and use supplements as extra insurance
Foods High in Antioxidants: Fruits
- Goji Berries
Foods High in Antioxidants: Vegetables
- Brussel Sprouts
- Alfaalfa sprouts
Foods High in Antioxidants: Herbs & Spices
The key takeaway is that antioxidants are found in various fruits, vegetables and superfood powders. They are fantastic to consume but you don’t need to concern yourself with individual or specific types. One simple rule to follow is to focus on colour! The different colours you see in the fresh produce section of the supermarket represent the different antioxidants in that fruit or vegetable. So the focus is twofold;
First, aim to eat 8 or more servings of vegetables and fruit per day to meet important nutritional intake levels of vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you divide this out across the day, it means choosing 2 or 3 servings of vegetables at every meal (yes, even breakfast). How much is a serving? The World Health Organisation established the standard serving as 80 grams raw, or just shy of 3 ounces.
Second, aim to get as much colour into your day as possible! Mix and match red, orange, yellow, green, purple, blue!
Foods High in Antioxidants: iRaw!
At iRaw, we want to create functional food that both tastes good but is also rich in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. Our founder, Asa, made this the focus of the whole range meaning that each product is incredibly dense in micronutrition. Some items to highlight:
Eastern & Peppery Kale – Kale
Beauty Snack – Turmeric, Matcha Green Tea and Spirulina
Spicy Chocolate – Goji, Cayenne and Cacao