The Best Antioxidant-Rich Foods for a Disease-Fighting Diet

Antioxidant-rich foods help ward off cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and more.

| January/February 2012

  • Eating a variety of antioxidant-rich foods such as leafy greens can boost your immune system and help ward off disease.

Antioxidants may well be our most potent defense against disease. Antioxidants help our bodies fight toxins and free radicals—molecules that damage DNA and can eventually lead to health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and macular degeneration. Though we naturally produce antioxidants and fight free radicals, the process isn’t completely effective, and its effectiveness declines with age.

By eating a wide range of antioxidant-rich foods, we can give our bodies a helping hand. Research on taking antioxidant supplements has yielded a variety of results—for example, some studies suggest that supplemental doses of beta-carotene or vitamin E actually increase health risks. The best way to get a good, healthy mix of antioxidants is through a rich and varied diet. Fortunately, many delicious foods offer a high dose of disease-fighting antioxidants. Incorporate these foods into your diet for better health.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Berries: Among nature’s richest sources of antioxidants are berries. Berries’ antioxidants include vitamin C and flavonoids, the chemicals that give fruits their color and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and memory loss. Generally, the darker the berry, the stronger the disease-fighting properties. For an antioxidant-boosting smoothie, blend frozen organic berries with unsweetened cranberry or pomegranate juice instead of dairy, which can decrease their potency.

Legumes: Small red beans topped the list of more than 100 antioxidant-rich foods in a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. In fact, three of the top five foods were beans. Colorful varieties such as red, black, pinto and kidney contain the most flavonoids. Add them to soups, casseroles and salads. Opt for dried beans over canned—most food cans are lined with the potentially dangerous chemical bisphenol A (BPA). When you soak or cook beans, some of the flavonoids leach into the water. Reuse this nutritious liquid as a vegetarian stock in soups and stews.

Fruits: An apple a day does help keep the doctor away. To get the most antioxidant bang for your bite, choose organic Red Delicious, Granny Smith or Gala varieties and eat the peel, which contains quercetin and rutinose, strong antioxidants that may help combat inflammation, cell damage and blood circulation problems. Orange-colored fruits such as navel oranges, mangoes, peaches and tangerines are also good antioxidant sources, as are dried fruits—prunes in particular.

Vegetables: Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and red leaf lettuce are excellent choices; artichokes, asparagus and red potatoes also provide antioxidant benefits. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that some vegetables’ antioxidant level actually increases when they’re slightly cooked. For example, the total ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity—the standard measure of antioxidant activity) for cooked red cabbage is 3,145, while raw red cabbage is 2,496. Other veggies that benefit from slight cooking include yellow onions, broccoli and tomatoes.

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