Antioxidants are critical to the healthy functioning of our systems. Our bodies need them to fight off free radicals, the uncontrolled oxidants found in our environments, which damage our cells.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that form naturally in our bodies and are a vital part of the cellular process. However, when found in high concentrations, they can cause significant damage at a cellular level.
These high concentration levels can come from several sources, including air pollution, unhealthy foods, alcohol, or fungal infection, as well as excessive exposure to the sun, cigarette smoke, and many other things that our bodies can be exposed to daily.
Studies have even shown that free radicals can cause aging, in large part due to its effect on our DNA. When mice and other animals were put on an antioxidant diet, this caused aging to slow down. There is a contradicting study on worms though, where they were treated with free radicals and lived longer. But this shouldn’t be taken too seriously until there is more research done on humans.
Antioxidants act as an inner superhero to fight against these free radicals from causing damage to our cells and genetic material that can potentially be irreversible. A study done by the School of Public Health at Harvard, claims that having a regular dose of foods high in antioxidants can actually repair DNA and help maintain cellular health.
As we age, our bodies produce less and less natural antioxidants, so it’s essential to supplement our diets. And while antioxidants aren’t a direct route to weight loss, consuming them can be a powerful aid in the weight loss journey. It is known that antioxidants can help increase energy levels, reduce inflammation, and promote a healthier metabolism. These are all things that contribute to the goal of achieving that smaller waistline.
What are Antioxidants?
This is a complicated question to answer because antioxidants can be found in many different substances, so they aren’t necessarily a substance in and of themselves, but rather a descriptive term to illustrate what they do.
Each antioxidant facilitates a different function, and they are not interchangeable, so it’s essential to integrate a variety of them into your diet. So really, the key is complexity when it comes to getting all of the right types of antioxidants into your diet.
The most commonly known substances included in antioxidant-rich foods are vitamin C, vitamin E, manganese, and beta-carotene. Antioxidants can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, mainly ones rich in color. Foods that contain high levels of antioxidants are typically high in fiber, low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and are just generally a great source of vitamins and minerals.
As well, one of the main things that can be found in most antioxidant-rich foods is polyphenols. These are micronutrients that are found mainly in plant-based foods. Now, polyphenols can be taken as a supplement. When they are taken, side effects can include the interference or limiting of iron absorption. However, this only seems to be the case when it comes to processed supplements. With weight loss, staying away from processed food is always a good idea anyway.
When your body gets its polyphenols from nutrient-rich foods, there is evidence that suggests that they can contribute to the improvement of digestive issues, assist in weight management, and help regulate problems related to diabetes and other diseases. Factors that influence the activity of polyphenols in your system include metabolism and intestinal absorption.
When you get your polyphenols from whole foods, the benefits for your overall health and factors contributing to weight loss and weight management are huge. So skip the processed pills and get your polyphenols from your antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, spinach, kale, almonds, and so much more.
Foods High in Antioxidants
It is recommended that you steer clear of foods claiming to contain antioxidants which are processed. Your best bet – like most healthy weight loss advice would dictate – is to keep it in the realm of whole foods. Fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts with no added sugars, salts, or preservatives are going to be your straight shot to getting the most nutrient-dense sources of antioxidants.
A good rule of thumb is to buy fruits, vegetables, and grains rich in color – the deeper the color, the more nutrient and antioxidants-rich it likely is. Plant-based foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, spices, and even cocoa (high-quality dark chocolate, not the convenience store chocolate bars).
Important Dietary Antioxidants and Their Benefits
Vitamin C is a water-soluble source found in many fruits and vegetables. For women, the recommended daily intake is 75 milligrams, and it’s 90 milligrams for men. This is a super-vitamin packed with tons of benefits, including a reduction in the risk of chronic illnesses, like heart disease. It also aids in the prevention of iron deficiency, which helps the body better absorb sources of iron. The other benefit is a boost in your immune system, which helps protect your cognitive function as you age. The best food sources for this vitamin include berries, oranges, and bell peppers.
This vitamin comes in eight forms. Still, to keep things simple, we generally reference it under a collective name, “vitamin E.” This is a vitamin-packed with fat-soluble compounds, which carry out vital antioxidant functions that stop the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS forms when the body converts food to energy and can have damaging effects. Vitamin E is the key to stopping the production of ROS in the system. It’s also great for dilating blood vessels for increased blood flow. It can be found in nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables.
A key to your body’s metabolic functions, flavonoids come in 12 major subclasses and help reduce inflammation. Recent findings have indicated that they can aide in the prevention of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Its best sources are blueberries, apples, grapes, black tea, and citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, and grapefruits).
Zinc is an essential mineral that can be found in certain foods. It is involved heavily in the metabolic and immune system(s). Zinc plays a huge role in healthy growth and development during pregnancy and early childhood. It is required to maintain a sense of taste and smell. So if you’re a foodie, you’ll want to get your daily intake to keep enjoying all of those delicious culinary delights. Ensuring your body receives a regular supply of zinc is very important because the body has the natural storage system to conserve it. You can eat oysters, red meat, beans, nuts, and dairy in order to get this mineral.
This is an element found in many foods that plays a crucial role in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, and protection from oxidative damage, those free radicals we talk about earlier. Its best sources include brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, shrimp, rice, and turkey.
A plant-based nutrient that is found in fruits, lycopene is pinkish or red in color. It plays a significant role in protecting your body from the free radicals built up from oxidative stress, which is often linked to chronic diseases. Some studies have shown that it may play a role in slowing down the progress of some types of cancer. Other potential health benefits include help with eyesight, a reduction in pain, stronger bones, and protection of your cognitive functions. Look for it in tomatoes, guava, watermelon, papaya, and pink grapefruit.
Lutein is a vital dietary carotenoid which is essential for healthy eyes. It is one of two carotenoids that accrue in the back of the retina, which is necessary for vision. Spinach, broccoli, eggs, corn, and grapes are all excellent sources of lutein.
Antioxidants and Weight Loss
As mentioned earlier, antioxidants are not a miracle path to weight loss. However, because of their nutrient-dense properties, they can be beneficial in helping your body shed pounds by speeding up your metabolism and decreasing inflammation in the body. They will aide in your digestion and keep you energized, which are critical contributors to slimming down.
In short, antioxidant-rich foods are going to make your system work more efficiently. They will help with your digestion, absorption of nutrients, and overall health. And when it comes to weight loss, your metabolism is enormous, so use your antioxidant-rich foods to boost it and keep that system in check to help shed those pounds!
So if your goal is to lose weight and keep it off, you’ve got to start from the inside and get that digestive system working efficiently. When it comes to achieving this, antioxidant-rich foods will be your best friend. To get you started, here are some easy tricks to integrate antioxidants into your daily food intake:
Replace your regular cup of joe with matcha or green tea.
Matcha and green tea come from the same plant but are processed differently. Matcha tends to have higher caffeine levels (in case that’s your thing), but both boast huge benefits for both health and even weight loss.
They are loaded with antioxidants, including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which helps break down an enzyme that inhibits norepinephrine (which helps your body break down fat), leaving it to do its job and eat that fat.
Include a color-dense fruit or vegetable every time you eat a meal.
This includes snacks. It can be as simple as adding a handful of blueberries to your morning oatmeal or slicing up an apple to enjoy with some almond butter for a very healthy snack. Generally, when you look at your plate, think “the more color, the better” – have a plate of whole foods that cover the spectrum of the rainbow.
Use antioxidant-rich spices to add a flavor-kick to any dish.
Some of the best ones include turmeric, cumin, ginger, oregano, and cinnamon. There is a laundry list of benefits that come from these spices as well. While they all tout the benefits of being high in antioxidants, they also perform other functions vital to health. This includes reducing inflammation, cholesterol, and glucose levels in your system.
Opt for healthy, unprocessed nuts and seeds as snacks.
Great options include almonds, walnuts, and cashews. With this one, remember to stay away from the added salt and sugar versions, as these additions can increase bloating and calorie intake, making it harder to shed those pounds.
Switch out your salad and sandwich lettuce for kale.
Kale is high in beta-carotene and vitamin C, as well as flavonoids and polyphenols, which fight the free radicals in our bodies. An added bonus is that kale, when cleaned and appropriately massaged, adds a considerable flavor pop to an otherwise boring salad.
Skip the milk chocolate and reach for dark instead.
Milk chocolate includes a lot of additives, mainly sugar and milk products, which increase calories, reduce cacao percentage, and in general, make for an unhealthier, less satiating treat. The higher the cacao percentage, the better.
Here are some things to look for when shopping for the healthiest bang for your buck:
- High cacao content (70 percent or higher)
- Low sugar content (Make sure it’s not one of the top ingredients; even better if there is no sugar added)
- No added flavor
- No preservatives
- Skip the processed stuff
- The fewer the ingredients, the better
Again, chocolate is going to have higher calorie content, so enjoy in moderation. A few squares a day is usually all you go for when trying to lose weight.
Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on everything.
These are an acquired taste – a little bit of sweet, a little bit of sour (depending on the ripeness). But for those who love them, this is one of the most antioxidant-rich fruits out there. In fact, pomegranates contain 40 percent more than your daily recommended dose of vitamin C. They are tasty on a bowl of oatmeal, tossed into any mixed salad, and even sprinkled onto your guac.
Bake over boil when it comes to your antioxidant-rich veggies.
For anyone out there who hates the flavor of vegetables because they have only ever tried boiled or steam ones. An excellent alternative to get re-acquainted is to begin baking or roasting them.
Antioxidant-rich veggies like broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, and eggplant may have gotten a bad rap from being prepared vis-à-vis all of the traditional cooking methods. This robbed them of all of their flavor and fun. Try tossing these veggies in some spices (cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper are always good bets), add a splash of olive oil, and bake away! You’ll start a new love affair with some nutrient-rich treats that once felt like punishments.
Enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner.
If you’re a wine-lover, then you probably caught wind of studies over the past few years that have been encouraging moderate consumption of red wine as part of your daily diet. Apparently, there’s some truth to it. TIME Magazine even referenced the famed study, which is probably one of the reasons it went viral. Or it was a perfect way to justify enjoying wine without the guilt. Red wine is unique in that it had some antioxidants that are tough to find anywhere else. A glass with dinner every evening could also lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, it’s wine. Who doesn’t love an excuse to drink it?
Keep the peels intact whenever possible.
Don’t take the skin off of that apple or those beets! The skin is often the most nutrient-dense part of your fruits and veggies, so keeping it on there will ensure that you get the most out of your intake.
This is especially easy when making juices – throw in the entire fruit or veggie into the juicer. You get all that extra juice and less waste. And, if pesticides are your concern, then washing your produce with a blend of baking soda and vinegar will do the trick.
Antioxidants and a Healthier Diet
Finally, it’s important to remember the best route to weight loss is always a holistic one. It’s essential to consider your overall diet and health. If you don’t provide your body the proper nutrients and antioxidant-rich foods while calorie counting, then you’re essentially wasting your time with a temporary quick fix. Without these considerations, achieving long-term results will be impossible.