List of Surprising Foods High in Antioxidants
Many of us know most of the foods high in antioxidants, you know, the poster children for foods with antioxidants. But, these little molecules are lurking in more foods than you may be aware. Recent research has not only brought these foods out of hiding, but has discovered some foods with smaller amounts of antioxidants are superior to other loaded foods because our bodies can simply process these little gems better. I’m going to venture to guess you will be pleasantly surprised that a few of your favorite foods, even some that are seemingly “naughty”, might actually have made the cut.
What Are Antioxidants?
Our bodies contain a trillion or so cells which are constantly under attack or threat from viruses to environmental toxins. If that weren’t enough, we’re being constantly barraged by some nasty chemicals called free radicals. They are produced by the seemingly innocuous process of turning food into energy. Some free radicals lurk in the food you eat, others in the air you breathe, but suffice it to say they are everywhere. These little gems pack a powerful punch as they are capable of doing quite a bit of damage to both your cells and even your genetic material.
Free radicals are hungry little molecules can’t seem to quench their appetitive for electrons. They constantly steal these electrons from their innocent neighbors, in the process altering these victim’s function and structure. They can actually change DNA coding, making what would normally be a harmless molecule into a harmful one. For example, it can change the function of a Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) molecule, making it more likely to stick on an artery wall. Or, it can alter a cell so dramatically it changes what can get in and out of the cell membrane. Not good!
Fortunately, we have this little arsenal to keep these free radical in check called antioxidants. Our body makes them and we derive them from the food we eat. They’re generous little fellows in that they freely give molecules to the free radical scavengers. Fortunately, they’re able to spare these electrons without turning into nasty little electron thieves themselves.
There are perhaps thousands of substances that act like antioxidants. We’re probably most familiar with vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids such a beta-carotene. A host of minerals also act as antioxidants, like selenium and manganese.. Anyway, the list goes on and on, fortunately for us. We need a variety of them since they each fulfill different roles and have different capabilities. Each has unique chemical and biological properties.
How Antioxidants Work
Popcorn: On the List of Foods High in Antioxidants
Three cheers for popcorn, one of America’s favorite snacks! It’s not only a great source of fiber, but it has more antioxidants than any other snack food. We don’t normally think of it being a whole grain, but it most certainly is. The drying process that the corn undergoes provides protection for all the lovely nutrients and antioxidants it contains.
Don’t think this gives you license to freely grab that bucket of theater popcorn, however. You’re doing yourself a disservice when it’s dripping in butter and loaded with salt. You want to keep it as plain as possible without using it as merely a system of transport for all the bad stuff. It's a precarious balance between getting foods with antioxidants and making sure you're not defeating the purpose.
Best Ways to Prepare Popcorn
If you have an air popper, use it. This way you have control over what you put in it, if anything. It’s best to salt it lightly. A little olive or canola oil is a great way to add flavor without adding harmful ingredients.
Microwave popcorn can be healthy or unhealthy. Look for ones with minimal additives, frighteningly, some have horrific amounts of trans fat in them. Basically, the plainer the better. Many of the low-fat varieties are a good choice since they’re not loaded down with butter. Low salt is also a better way to go. But, either way, get to popping!!!
Eggs: It’s All About the Lute
Poor eggs, they’ve gotten somewhat of a bad rap in recent years, but they're now on the list of foods high in antioxidants. We all know they’re loaded with cholesterol , so we shouldn’t be eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, there’s new buzz about their hidden nutritional benefits. We don’t normally associate eggs with being a good source of antioxidants. But, surprisingly, it seems eggs offer a very unique antioxidant delivery system: it’s all about the lute (lutein). Spinach is a fantastic source of the antioxidant lutein, just jam packed with it, in fact. Lutein offers disease-fighting power as well as eye degeneration power. Eggs pale in comparison, only having about 5% of the lutein provided by a measly ¼ cup of spinach. However, Tufts University has found that because of the fat in the yolk, we’re able to absorb the lutein much better than that same serving of spinach. This is not to say you should shelve you spinach and leafy green, however. They are and will forever be an excellent source of this antioxidant. However, the incredible edible egg is another simple way to get your lutein.
Best Ways to Prepare Eggs
Like popcorn, you don’t want to use eggs as a delivery system for all kinds of bad fats. Simple is better. A hard boiled or poached egg is a great way to avoid adding loads of butter. Don’t get me wrong, you can fry them, but do so in a healthy canola or olive oil. In fact, some research has shown canola oil is a source of antioxidants in and of itself. Better still, make an omelet with generous amounts of spinach to double up on your lutein for the day.
Beans, Beans Good for the Heart, The More You Eat, the More You ….
It was previously established that dried beans are an excellent source of antioxidants, but a recent Colorado State University study revealed that we shouldn’t ignore the more commonly consumed canned ones. According to the 2009 study published Crop Science all canned beans have antioxidants. However, if you’re looking to pack a punch with foods high in antioxidants, you’ll want to focus on small red beans, which were shown to have the highest concentration. Next on the list were dark, red kidney and black beans. The darker the better in fact since these have the highest phytochemical concentrations. Phytochemicals are plant-derived compounds that are highly efficient at wiping out those nasty electron-chowing free radicals.
Did Someone Say Chili?
Grab your can opener and you dark canned beans and put together some chili for an antioxidant party. Get those tomatoes, full of the antioxidant lycopene and make yourself a three bean vegetarian chili. Add a little chili powder, some cumin, a touch of salt, some fresh garlic and onions and you’re in for an antioxidant rich meal. Thankfully, foods with antioxidants can be yummy, too.
Consume That Yogurt Everyday!
If you love yogurt as much as I do, you’ll be thrilled to know it’s an excellent source of a powerful source of riboflavin, a B vitamin. Now, riboflavin isn’t itself an antioxidant, but it’s a critical little player in promoting and jump starting antioxidant activity. It partners up with the antioxidant glutathione, a permanent resident of our cells. This busy duo rids the body of free radicals that play a part in the development of cancer and heart disease. A mere cup of plain, low fat yogurt provides you with 25% of your riboflavin RDA, the same amount in an entire cup of spinach!
Fire Up Your Blender and Make a Smoothie
You can turn an otherwise pretty boring cup of plain yogurt into a taste bud extravaganza with some fresh fruit, a few ice cubes, and small amounts of sweetener. The sky’s the limit here in terms of delicious fruit smoothies you can make. Fruit is itself an excellent source of antioxidants, so you’re really doing yourself a favor here. Experiment with different berries, bananas and fruits ranging in all colors to maximize your antioxidant intake.
Organic Milk is More Than Just Environmentally-Friendly!
It’s time to make the switch to organic milk, folks, if you’re interested in boosting your consumption of antioxidants, that is. The antioxidants found in the milk produced by cows raised on grass-fed or organic diets have 40% to 50% more antioxidants than non-organic milk. Specifically, vitamin E and the carotenoids beta-carotene and lutein. Grain-fed cow milk pales in comparison to the antioxidant concentration in grass-fed cows, even if the grain eating cows were given dietary supplements. Choose organic cheese and butters, too.
Drink it Plain or Dress it Up: Foods with Antioxidants
Most of us know by now that chocolate has antioxidants, the darker the better, too. You can make yourself some delightful hot chocolate with your organic milk as a taste bud treat, as well as an antioxidant boost. Or, of course it you’re a milk drinker, just drink it plain!
Sweet Doesn’t Mean Bad in the World of Antioxidants!
Put away your sweet tooth guilt and indulge in one or a few of your favorite natural sweeteners for a dose of antioxidants. Strange, huh? A study performed by researchers at Virginia Tech University found molasses, maple syrup, honey and brown sugar actually contain significant amounts of antioxidants. Rule of thumb: think dark, dark molasses, dark brown sugar, dark honey and pure maple syrup. Avoid the honey made from clover nectar, the darker types are where you’ll find the benefits of the antioxidant polyphenol. Foods high in antioxidants can satisfy your sweet tooth, too!
Make Little Changes in Your Sweetening Habits
Instead of grabbing refined sugar for your tea, grab some honey next time. Brown sugar is wonderful on pure grain cereals, I love it on Steel Cut Oats. Pure maple syrup makes a wonderful topping for a variety of desserts, it is fantastic as a berry topper.
Bring on the Potatoes: It’s All About the Flesh
Studies show potatoes bring something else besides beside starch and carbs to the table. Carotenoids are present in the flesh of all white potatoes. The whiter the flesh the better in terms of flavanoids. White flesh has twice as much of these as potatoes with red or purple flesh. So, bring on the russetts! But, all potatoes seem to bring the antioxidants from purple to blue to red to yellow. So, don’t be so carbophobic and start mashing.
Preparing Potatoes the Antioxidant Way
The less you cook potatoes, the better. You’ll cook away the nutrients and antioxidants otherwise. Your best bet is to steam them. Steam them for only as long as it takes to get them soft enough for you to eat. Mix them up with some organic milk or yogurt, a little salt, some organic butter and enjoy.
Hopefully, you're now aware of the broad range of foods high in antioxidants. If you have any other recipes that use foods with antioxidants, by all means, share below.