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Food as Medicine: Explaining Antioxidants and Five Ways to Eat Them

Antioxidants are preventative health superheroes

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Olivia Hayo
July 16, 2019
Photo by Magalie De Preux on Unsplash

Bastyr University adheres to a whole-food philosophy that guides all of its nutrition programs, emphasizing the consumption of a variety of foods in their least-processed forms. When assessing health and wellness, the university integrates mind, body, and spirit by drawing connections between whole food, exercise science and health psychology.

This month, Dr. Shanshan Chen, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Bastyr talks about how antioxidants can help you boost your preventative health.

You’ve probably heard the term “Antioxidant”, but what is an antioxidant exactly?

Antioxidants are a group of compounds that fight free radicals, the highly unstable molecules that are naturally formed in your body, so they can’t harm your healthy cells.

There’s overwhelming research showing that antioxidants can help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, among other chronic diseases.

The good news is that you don’t need to seek out any special or unusual ingredients to power up with antioxidants. In fact, antioxidant supplements do not provide the same benefits as those derived through food, and they don’t taste as good either. It is always better to supply your antioxidants from a balanced, plant-based diet.

An easy rule of thumb when trying to maximize antioxidant intake is to eat colorful plant-sourced foods every day. Purple, dark green, orange, yellow, the more colorful, the better, as these natural, vibrant colors are indicators of high levels of antioxidants.

Five Antioxidant-Rich Foods to Eat Right Now


With their high content of vitamins and phytochemicals such as flavonoids, berries are excellent sources of antioxidants.

Best Bets: Some especially antioxidant-rich berries include: wild strawberries, goji berries, cranberries, and bilberries.

Word of Warning: antioxidant values drop tremendously in processed berry products (such as berry jams), so stick to seasonal, fresh berries.

Herbs and Spices

Although they generally weigh little on your dinner plate, they are truly important contributors to your antioxidant intake as most spices and herbs have particularly high antioxidant contents.

Best Bet: No matter if they are fresh or dried, herbs are power-houses. For example, 100g of dried peppermint leaves contains nearly triple the amount of antioxidant found in 100g of dried bilberries.

Try them in a citrusy tabouli salad.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts are a rich source of many important nutrients and some are also loaded with antioxidants such as flavonoids.

Best Bets: Pecans, sunflower seeds, and chestnuts are among the highest antioxidant-packed nuts and seeds.

Pro tip: Studies have found that nut pellicles (the thin skin around the meat) are particularly high in antioxidants, so don’t discard them, eat them too.

Try them in a protein-packed banana nut chia pudding.

Photo by John Forson on Unsplash

Fruits and Vegetables

You can never go wrong with eating a variety of fruits and veggies. Most fruits are good sources of antioxidants.

Best Bets: They are all good. Go for apples (with peel), grapes, and most citrus fruits, or stone fruits including peaches, apricots, cherries, and prunes, or tropical fruits like mango and guava.

Don’t forget: Colorful vegetables are perfect sources of antioxidants, too. Grab asparagus, beets, broccoli, tomatoes, kale.

Try combining your fruits and veggies with a tangy cherry chimichurri over cauliflower steaks.

Coffee and Tea

Generally speaking, coffee made with roasted beans is an excellent source of antioxidants, though the exact amount of antioxidant in your coffee mug still depends on the country of origin, degree of roasting, the soil and temperature where the coffee was grown. Tea is another super option.

Best Bet: Green tea, particularly, is high in these components.

Word of Warning:Some research suggests that the protein, and possibly the fat, in milk may reduce the antioxidant capacity of tea, so even though tea with milk can still be considered as a healthy beverage, to reap the full benefits of the antioxidant power of tea or coffee, it may be best to skip the milk.

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