Foods that are rich in antioxidants are an essential part of a healthy, cancer preventative diet. But why? What is it about antioxidants and the free radicals they combat that makes them so important for a healthy lifestyle?
Understanding the Threat of Free Radicals
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines free radicals a “highly reactive chemicals that have the potential to harm cells.” They are created when a molecule (two or more atoms) or an atom either loses or gains an electron. Free radicals are formed naturally in the body and play an important role in many normal cellular processes, however, too high a concentration of these reactive chemicals can damage all major components of cells, including DNA, which, in turn, contributes to the degenerative changes of aging, as well as may play a role in the development of age-related diseases and other health conditions, including cancer.
Antioxidants to the Rescue!
Antioxidants are chemicals, also referred to as micronutrients, that that interact with and stop free radicals from causing harmful cell damage. While our bodies produce some antioxidants to deal with free radicals, it’s less than we need, which is why we must rely on external sources of antioxidants. This is where diet comes in.
Foods High in Antioxidants
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), conducted a detailed study and determined the total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements. Below are some of the general findings of that study:
- When it comes to grains, buckwheat, barley and millet flours have the highest antioxidant values. The actual grain products containing the most antioxidants include crisp bread and whole meal bread with fiber.
- Antioxidant-rich beverages include prepared green tea, pomegranate juice, grape juice, black tea, and prune juice. Beverages containing the lowest antioxidant value include beer, soft drinks and ginger ale, with water having the least (zero). Water is important for proper hydration, however, so don’t start drinking pomegranate juice instead of water.
- Berries and berry products have relatively high amounts of antioxidants on average. Other antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables include lemon rind, dried apples, dried apricots, artichokes, dried plums, flour made of okra, red and green chili, curly kale, and prunes. Though with slightly lower values, the following fruits and veggies are also good sources of antioxidants: dried dates, red cabbage, dried mango, black and green olives, paprika, red beets, guava, and plums.
- Most dairy products are low in antioxidant content.