Antioxidants are an important component of your diet because they help neutralize free radicals within the body and blunt their potential for causing damage. What are free radicals you ask? In short, free radicals form from oxygen and can actually oxidize many of the structural components of your body's cells (e.g., membranes, receptors, enzymes, and even DNA). To get an idea of what free radicals can do to your body over time, think of a pair of scissors that has been left outside in the rain for a few days and is beginning to rust. Or an apple that turns brown a little while after you bite into it. In both scenarios, this is oxidation (i.e., oxygen's corrosive effects on a solid). This is what oxygen can do to your body's tissues over a lifetime. When too many cells begin to mutate or die from the molecular onslaught brought on by oxidation, things like heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer's can begin to develop. It is this oxidative damage from free radicals that is at the root of all these diseases of lifestyle and aging.
One of the best things we can do to help defend our bodies from free radicals is to fortify it with large amounts of antioxidants from antioxidant rich foods. Beta-carotene, for instance, can actually destroy free radicals after they have formed. Vitamin E saves body tissues from damage by scavanging free radicals, and Vitamin C keeps free radicals from destroying the outermost layers of cells. Although the science of antioxidants is still developing, researchers suspect that getting most of your antioxidants from whole foods has major advantages over getting them solely from a pill. Not only do you get the antioxidants from the whole foods, but you also get a whole host of other nutrients as well and it is likely that your body best absorbs and uses antioxidants when these other nutrients are present.
What are the best antioxidant rich foods? Below, we are going to give you more information than a simple list, while not boring you with a dissertation on every food that has antioxidant value. To this extent, we are going to hand out a few Antioxidant Awards. Now, on with the show....
The Best Antioxidant Rich Foods:
The food award for most underrated antioxidant goes to Herbs. Greek, Italian, and Mexican oregano all outscored fruits and vegetables for Vitamin E when measured for antioxidant activity, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture. Rosemary, dill, thyme, coriander, and bay all scored nearly as well. Because herbs tend to be lightly sprinkled over whatever you happen to be eating, they are not a substute for the quantities of antioxidants found in whole fruits and vegetables. However, they are an easy way to increase your overall antioxidant consumption.
The best antioxidant food for fighting pain award goes to Cherries. They are an amazing inflammation fighter. In terms of antioxidant content, cherries rank among the top 10 making them a powerful anti-inflammatory. Eating tart cherries can relieve inflammatory pain as effectivley as ibuprofren or asprin, and with less potential stomach irritation, according to a study at Michigan State University.
Runners-up: Foods high in B vitamins, such as lean beef, chicken and, seafood, appear to disrupt the transmission of pain signals between the rest of the body and the brain. Nuts and olive oil also have inflammatory action that can help minimize tendinitis and sprains.
The food award for best antioxidant for curing headaches goes to Ginger. It can help relieve standard headaches and may even be able to help relieve migraines. Ginger may function as a painkiller and stop the headache preventively by prohibiting the release of sertonin into the brain. For migraines, try eating whole grains, nuts, beans, and spinach. They all contain magnesium which can ease the severity and length of migraine pain.
The best antioxidant most likely to prevent cavities food award goes to Green Tea. It has catechins which fight the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Specifically, the catechins inhibit the bacteria's ability to attach to teeth, as well as contribute to a number of other factors that diminish the risk of tooth decay.
Runner-up: Foods high in calcium, such as milk. Calcium helps to strengthen your gums. Men who consume 800 milligrams or more of calcium per day have half the risk of periodontal disease as compared with men who consume 500 milligrams or less calcium per day, according to research at the State University of New York. If you are lactose intolerant, yogurt is a great way to get your calcium.
The award for best overall antioxidant food goes to Dried Plums. When it comes to antioxidants, dried plums (formerly known as prunes) are the alpha antioxidant food. They have twice the antioxidants of raisins, which come in at a distant second. Both dried plums (#1) and raisins (#2) are nearly devoid of water, which makes their antioxidants very concentrated. Any of the other dark-colored fruits (e.g., blueberries [#3] and blackberries [#4]) are also high in antioxidants. In fact, it's the antioxidant content of red grapes that helps explain why red wine reduces the risk of heart disease better than liquer, beer, or even white wine.
There they are, the best antioxidant rich foods. Although it is important to get the majority of your antioxidants from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, it is likely that the average person will need to take a daily multi-vitamin supplement to help fill some of the holes in their diet. For example, the current recommended daily allowance for Vitamin E for men is 30 IU (international units). However, studies have found that 200 to 400 IU of Vitamin E daily can reduce the risk of heart disease significantly. Since Vitamin E is found primarily in nuts and oils, that's possibly 10 times more than what the average man would get from even a healthy diet. Therfore, it seems your best bet at fighting off free radicals is to eat a healthy diet containing antioxidant rich foods along with taking a daily multi-vitamin supplement. (See our sidebar at upper left under Health to find out where to buy quality vitamins and herbal supplements at discounted prices.)
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