Q: What exactly do antioxidants do and what are some great food sources?
A: Antioxidants counter the excessive production of small, highly reactive molecules in the body called reactive oxygen species (ROS). These ROS are byproducts of normal human metabolism and include both free radicals and nonradicals. ROS are capable of damaging delicate cells, especially DNA, our cells’ genetic blueprint. When the production of ROS exceeds the body’s antioxidant capacity, premature aging and the development of chronic diseases is accelerated. Thus, a large intake of antioxidants (consumed in food) theoretically would help the body fight DNA damage and oxidative stress, factors involved in disease development.
The total antioxidant power of foods is measured by the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). According to a study by the USDA, some of the foods highest on the ORAC scale include black and red beans, blueberries, strawberries, Granny Smith apples, pecans and cranberries.
A plant-based diet filled with colorful fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, beans, whole-grains and olive oil will virtually guarantee you a huge array of health-promoting antioxidants. Plant foods are not only rich in antioxidants but also vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and polyphenols, additional factors that confer numerous health benefits, most notably protection from disease. So when it comes to antioxidants, color generally indicates concentration. Make an effort every day to harness the power of plant antioxidants by coloring your plate with dark, deep hues of green, purple, orange and blue. And remember, when it comes to antioxidants, more color = more health!