Wholesome foods:

What are antioxidants?
If you’re like me and you are always looking for the Fountain of Youth, you should know about antioxidants.
Your body naturally produces antioxidants through metabolism, or in response to exposure to toxins like radiation or tobacco smoke. You also need to obtain antioxidants in foods, particularly plant foods like fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are thought to prevent the detrimental effects of aging.
What do antioxidants do?
It can help to understand a few basic chemical terms and reactions to realize the importance of antioxidants.
Free radicals
These toxic, unstable compounds are generated in the body as it converts food to energy, or are breathed in through polluted air or produced by the action of sunlight on the eyes and skin. They’re also produced as a response to inflammation and stress.
Oxidative stress
If free radicals cannot be neutralized, they ‘steal’ electrons from stable molecules in the body, making them also unstable. This causes oxidative stress, which leads to DNA damage in our cells, and potentially causes serious medical problems.
Antioxidants definition
An antioxidant is a substance that neutralizes free radicals and prevents cell damage from oxidative stress.
Antioxidants may play a role in preventing heart disease, cancer and age-related conditions like dementia, according to a large body of research. The best way to get antioxidants is not through a pill, but through the food that you eat.
Antioxidants in foods
Diet and nutrition experts frequently suggest choosing among a “rainbow” of colorful foods for optimal health – and no, they don’t mean Skittles, Red Vines or Gummy Bears.
You can see for yourself which foods that are richest in pigment like the difference between white and sweet potatoes. Red cabbage has more pigment than regular cabbage, red onions have more than white onions, purple grapes are better than green grapes, and so forth. Even black sesame seeds are richer in antioxidants compared to the regular version.
There are hundreds of antioxidants. These are among the best-known and most-studied types:
● Anthocyanins. These pigments produce blue, purple and red colors in fruits and veggies like berries, grapes, cranberries, eggplant, beets and red cabbage, as well as in red wine. Anthocyanins fall under the bioflavonoid category of antioxidants. Anthocyanin-rich foods like berries are important components of the MIND diet, which was created to protect the brain as it ages and helps prevent dementia. You can read more about the MIND diet https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mind-diet.
● Carotenoids. These pigments produce bright orange, red and yellows in fruits and vegetables like carrots, oranges, grapefruit, squash and yams. Carotenoids such as lutein and beta-carotene are also found in leafy greens like spinach. Lycopene gives tomatoes their bright red color. Carotenoids are essential for eye health, among other functions.
● Terpenoids. These antioxidants are found in foods like garlic, onions, cauliflower, coconuts and whole grains. They help counter disease-causing organisms like fungi, parasites and viruses.
● Vitamin C. Water-soluble vitamin C is found in a wide range of citrus and other fruits like berries and kiwi, and in vegetables like bell peppers and Brussels sprouts. Vitamin C has multiple functions and is vital for bone, muscle, cartilage and blood vessel development.
● Vitamin E. Falling under the category of tocopherols or tocotrienols depending on its form, vitamin E is found in leafy green vegetables, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils. The alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E plays the antioxidant role.
● Zinc. The mineral zinc is found in the largest amounts in meat, fish and seafood. Oysters contain the most zinc of any food. Eggs and dairy contain zinc, as well. Breakfast cereals and other foods like flour are sometimes fortified with zinc. Wound healing and blood clotting are among zinc’s important functions.
Following a plant-based diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or the Flexitarian diet, can help you take in the healthful antioxidants you need.
Foods high in antioxidants
You can access the Antioxidant Food Table https://retinafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Antioxidants-in-Foods.pdf to find the precise antioxidant content of more than 3,100 foods and supplements worldwide, compiled as part of a study published in the Nutrition Journal.
Antioxidants in selected foods
These are examples of foods with relatively high antioxidant content (measured by millimoles per 100 grams):
● Artichoke (boiled): 4.5
● Blueberries: 9
● Black chokeberries: 13.5
● Chocolate (for baking,
unsweetened): 10
● Clove (dried, ground): 126
● Coffee beans (roasted, black):
● Oregano (dried): 96
● Pecans (with skin): 10.5
● Pomegranate (yellow pith
● Saffron (dried, ground): 62
● Walnuts (with skin): 16
The big takeaway is: Plant foods have 64 times more antioxidants than animal foods, on average. In particular, berries have about 10 times as much as other fruits and vegetables and are only beaten out by herbs and spices in their antioxidant proportions.
The other big takeaway is that the Fountain of Youth can be found right here in Illinois Valley gardens.
U.S. News Health
Laura Mancuso is a health educator and the program coordinator at Illinois Valley Wellness Resources.