Oxygen plays a vital role in our bodies. As our body uses it chemicals called free radicals are formed that can damage cells. Antioxidants in foods protect us from this damage. Nutrition is so important!

antioxidant vegetables and fruits in bowls

Good food can actually heal your body. What you eat can save your health or harm it. Free radicals in our bodies are increased by smoking, air pollution, sunlight, exercise, alcohol, and unhealthy diets.

The cell damage caused by free radicals is linked to diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease, amongst others. Free radical damage is also responsible for the aging process, particularly of the skin and eyes. The body uses antioxidants to remove these free radicals from the body.

Our bodies make their own antioxidants but also need to obtain them from our diets. The commonly known antioxidants are Vitamins A, C, and E; but some minerals, namely copper, selenium, and zinc are also important, along with the natural anti-inflammatory bioflavonoid compounds.

Many people take supplements of antioxidants in capsule form. The evidence for this is mixed, the anti-oxidants have to be present in certain proportions to show a benefit and in fact, one recent trial into the beneficial effects of Vitamin E was stopped early as the supplement was suspected to be doing harm.

It is far more natural and safer to try and get your antioxidants from natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables. This has the added benefit of supplying trace minerals and other substances which are good for the body, for instance, lycopene in tomatoes has only been found to be beneficial when taken as “tomatoes”, the supplement of the pure chemical does not seem to have the same advantages.

Vitamin A is made on-demand in the body from its vegetable source, beta-carotene, which is present in yellow and orange vegetables. Vitamin A in its pure form in supplements can be toxic, particularly in pregnancy.

So what foods should we eat to get our daily dose of antioxidants?

fruits and vegetables full of antioxidants on the counter arranged by color

Healthy food for beginners

Many countries of the world are actively pursuing public health campaigns to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption. The targets and jingles vary, from ” eat five” to ” Are you getting your daily seven?” but the message is the same, people need to eat more fruit and vegetables. Try to eat the rainbow every day for a variety of nutrition. Part of the benefit of this is the increased free radical intake, particularly vitamins C and E and beta-carotene.

The richest sources of free radicals are brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Think orange, red, purple, and blue. Berries are a very rich source and very easy to add to your diet. For those among us who don’t like breakfast they are ideal, half fill a blender with cold milk (skimmed) and throw in a handful of frozen mixed berries. Blend and drink. If you prefer to eat cereal, chop an apple over the top, or throw on a handful of fresh berries. (The ideal breakfast for heart health is a bowl of porridge made with skimmed milk, with a handful of antioxidant berries added.)

For lunch make a salad or sandwich but make sure you add the vegetables, beef and tomato, chicken and avocado, tuna, and sweet corn. You can see that the combinations are classic, but we often omit the “and vegetable” in our haste.

Dinner is what you like, but again add some vegetables, throw mushrooms into the chili or spaghetti, have roast carrots with your roast potatoes, toss some chopped vegetables into your soups and stews, make a stir fry with onions, mushrooms, carrots, sugar snap peas, and bok choi, that’s five in that one dish.

It is in fact very easy to eat five different vegetables and two different fruits in a day, and by trying to inject different colors we ensure a rich supply of antioxidants.

The best sources of antioxidants will be fresh and frozen vegetables, which are either raw or lightly cooked. Vegetables that have been sat in the supermarket for a few days are often very poor in nutrients and frozen ones may be a better source, as they are frozen very quickly after harvesting.

protein and vegetables on a plate

The biggest secret of a healthy diet is not the avoidance of certain foods; it is the addition of others. Try to eat at least seven servings of fruit and vegetables a day. When you decide which vegetables and fruits you are having try and pick a selection of the rich colors available to you: the deep purple-blue of plums, the bright red of tomatoes, the eye-catching orange of a carrot, and the deep rich greens of spinach and broccoli.

If you’re looking to lose weight, check out how to balance macronutrients for weight loss.

Both green and black teas are rich in polyphenols, an antioxidant. These are bioflavonoids, different antioxidants to those found in fruits and vegetables. There are vast rafts of research showing that as little as two cups of tea, black or green a day reduce the risks of cancer and heart disease. Research has been conducted into specific cancers, such as bladder and skin cancer, and has shown benefits. The level of tea drinking researchers recommend is up to eight cups a day. People worried about the caffeine intake that represents can rest assured that decaffeinated versions of tea still show the same benefits.

Herbal teas have been less researched in the area of bioflavonoid benefit, but many do contain these important antioxidant chemicals.

Nuts, as well as having high levels of good fats and being a rich source of the trace minerals we need in our diet also contain antioxidants, including vitamin E. Roasting the nuts destroys this so only raw nuts are valuable in terms of antioxidant activity. Different varieties of nuts contain different amounts of valuable compounds, and nuts are high-calorie. In terms of nutritional content, they are far healthier than a burger.

Snack foods often contain a mixture of nuts and seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds. These seeds are rich sources of many of the trace minerals we need as well as the antioxidant vitamin E. If you normally have a bowl of chips next to your chair while you watch the TV try a bowl of nuts and seeds instead.

Antioxidant smoothie

If you are looking for a sweet and tasty way to add a lot of colors to your diet, try these gorgeous and delicious smoothie bowls. And for more healthy meal ideas, check these out: