The Top 10 Antioxidant Foods
by Lisa Turner
Better Nutrition, Jan. 2002
Antioxidants can help prevent heart disease and cancer, reduce blood pressure and slow the effects of aging. These naturally occurring compounds protect the body from harmful, excess free radicals, sweeping them up before they can cause damage. And the best way to lay an antioxidant-rich foundation that's inhospitable to toxins and free radicals is through a combination of whole foods.
Few fruits have quite the provocative allure, the fragile charm or the nutrients of berries. They're full of fiber, minerals and vitamins, and loaded with healing antioxidants. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are rich in proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that can help prevent cancer and heart disease. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries contain ellagic acid, a plant compound that combats carcinogens. Blueberries also appear to delay the onset of age-related loss of cognitive function.
Maybe you never listened when Mom said, "Eat your broccoli." So listen now. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, can help prevent cancer and ward off heart disease. Cruciferous vegetables contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C - a potent antioxidant that breaks down estrogen in the body) that reduces the risk of breast cancer and other estrogen-sensitive cancers, like cancer of the ovaries and cervix. Other studies have shown that broccoli can help fight cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition. Broccoli also contains other protective constituents like beta-carotene, which can help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Tomatoes are fast becoming one of our favorite modern foods, and for good reason -- they can ward off certain kinds of cancer, prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, and help maintain mental function as we age. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a relatively rare member of the carotenoid family, also found in pink grapefruit and twice as powerful as beta-carotene. Studies have shown that men who eat more tomatoes or tomato sauce have significantly lower rates of prostate cancer. Other studies suggest lycopene can help prevent lung, colon and breast cancers. Tomatoes also contain the antioxidant glutathione, which helps boost immune function. Note: cooked tomatoes are preferable, since heat allows more desirable antioxidants in tomatoes to be made available to the body. And because lycopene is fat-soluble, eating tomatoes with oil can improve absorption.
A little red wine can keep your heart beating longer and stronger. Why? Mostly because of substances called resveratrol and quercetin found in red grapes. These potent antioxidants boost heart health by acting as free-radical scavengers, reducing platelet aggregation and helping blood vessels remain open and flexible. Resveratrol can also protect against cancer and reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, gastric ulcers, stroke and even osteoporosis.
The "stinking rose," perhaps the world's oldest known medicinal and culinary herb, is packed with antioxidants that can help fend off cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging. The sulfur compounds that give garlic its pungent odor are thought to be responsible for its healing benefits. Studies have shown that garlic keeps the heart healthy by lowering cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, fighting free radicals and keeping blood from clotting. Other studies suggest that eating garlic regularly can help prevent cancer. It also has potent anti-fungal properties and can help treat asthma and yeast infections.
Popeye may have thought eating spinach gave him strength, but it also allowed him to hit a nutritional jackpot. Because lutein (an antioxidant found in spinach) is the main pigment in the macula - the region of maximum visual sensitivity - it can help protect your vision. Studies have shown that people who eat spinach are less likely to develop cataracts and macular degeneration, the two most common causes of vision loss. Lutein appears to work by shielding the retina from sun damage and fighting free radicals that can harm the eyes. Some preliminary studies have suggested that lutein can also help prevent heart disease.
The most frequently consumed beverage in the world may also be one of the best ways to prevent a number of degenerative diseases. Tea has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and other diseases. It was originally thought that green tea had more antioxidants than black tea, but recent studies suggest that they are equally beneficial. The catechins in green tea are oxidized in the manufacturing process of black tea, forming free-radical fighting theaflavins.
Carrots are loaded with a potent antioxidant called beta-carotene, a member of the healing family of carotenoids. Also found in beets, sweet potatoes and other yellow-orange vegetables, beta-carotene provides protection against: cancer, especially lung, bladder, breast, esophageal and stomach cancers; heart disease, and the progression of arthritis by as much as 70 percent. Note: Cooked carrots have considerably higher levels of antioxidants than uncooked, probably because heat breaks down the active compounds and makes them more available.
The enduring favorite of health-foods aficionados, soy can help prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, ward off osteoporosis and lessen the effects of menopause. Most of the health benefits of soy have been attributed to its content of Genistein and other isoflavones, which resemble natural estrogens in the body. Studies have shown that Genistein can help prevent breast, colon and prostate cancers. Additionally, soy can reduce both overall cholesterol levels and LDL (low-density lipoprotein or "bad") cholesterol levels, without affecting the levels of beneficial HDL. Soy can also prevent osteoporosis and help alleviate the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes.
Your morning bowl of cereal may be a more potent source of phytochemicals than you think -- as long as it's whole-grain variety. Vitamin E in grains is a potent antioxidant that plays a role in preventing cancer, especially prostate cancer. Other studies have found that it can boost immunity, slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, treat and possibly prevent arthritis, prevent sunburn and treat male infertility. Grains are also rich in phytic acid, known as IP-6, a potent antioxidant that can help protect against breast, colon and liver cancers.
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