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Antioxidants are what protect your cells and DNA from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. With inadequate antioxidant defenses, aging accelerates and risk of diseases like cancer start going up.
The free radical theory of aging, proposed years ago, is still a strong explanation of why we age.
To slow the process down, we can try to prevent free radical production in the first place, or boost the body’s supply of antioxidants.
The greatest source of free radical production is the body’s own normal metabolism. The second largest source is inflammation. Boosting antioxidants slows inflammation. Reducing inflammation slows free radical production. Less inflammation, less oxidation, and vice versa.
Exercise produces free radicals exponentially as intensity increases. As exercise becomes more intense, the need for extra antioxidants rises. I tell you this so you’ll eat better, not exercise less!
When you think of antioxidants, think of whole, plant based foods. Processed foods and foods that are sourced from animals generally have poor antioxidant amounts.
Iceberg lettuce, which is almost void of nutrients other than fiber and water, still has more antioxidants than most commonly eaten animal products.
Of 3,100 foods tested for antioxidant content, the animal product that had the most antioxidants was ox liver. Regardless, a serving of ox liver still has fewer antioxidants than a snickers bar. This is for perspective, I’m not calling either of these things health foods.
How fast does it brown? This browning will happen slower in foods with a higher antioxidant content. Think bananas and an apple without its skin vs. lemons.
The same foods with darker colors generally have more antioxidant content. Think green grapes vs. concord, white corn vs. yellow, white onion vs. red, etc.
Herbs and spices tend to be antioxidant powerhouses. Add them to foods liberally. Excellent sources include: rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, chili pepper, clove, marjoram and cumin.
The Top 22 Antioxidant Foods By Serving Size
Of 3,100 foods tested for antioxidant content, the following were rated the highest per actual serving size. Try to get a bunch in every day! Go for variety. For an explanation of antioxidants and their importance, see our handout “Slow the clock and protect your health with Antioxidants”.
Top Antioxidant Foods Based on Serving Size*:
4. Prepared Artichokes
10. Ground Cloves
11. Grape Juice
12. Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
13. Sour Cherries
14. Red Wine
15. Pineapple Juice
17. Dark Chocolate (sugar-free)
18. Cooked Red Cabbage
19. Orange Juice
22. Black Plums
*I have omitted foods that either included a specific name brand, or that I feel are unhealthy for reasons regardless of their antioxidant content. You are free to look up the original list if you so desire: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/84/1/95/4633004?login=false [Table 4.]
I included juices and red wine, although I’m kind of on the fence with those.