Eating an optimal intake of antioxidants, through diet and supplements, is the key to living a long and healthy life. It is well-proven that by eating a diet rich in antioxidant nutrients you can extend a healthy lifespan.
Not all fruits and vegetables have the same antioxidant-power. The best method of assessing the antioxidant power of a food is to measure its ORAC (oxygen radical absorbency capacity) potential. This is an objective measure of the antioxidant capacity of a food.
How to Get the Most antioxidants
Generally speaking, the foods with the most color and flavor also have the highest antioxidant levels. The reds, yellows and oranges of carrots and tomatoes, for example, are caused by the presence of Beta-carotene. Artichokes have the highest rating of all the vegetables, whereas other vegetables such as carrots, peas and spinach are lower in ORAC units, so more of them need to be consumed to receive the same antioxidant benefits.
Fruits that have the highest levels are those with the deepest color, such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. They are particularly rich in powerful antioxidants called anthocyanidins. You would need to eat 11 bananas to get the same benefit as a cupful of blueberries.
Here is a list of twenty foods with a high ORAC rating that can easily be incorporated into your daily diet. Each of these foods in the servings shown provides 2,000 ORAC units. 6,000 ORACs a day are thought to provide the maximum anti-aging, health-protective benefits.
To get the most antioxidants, aim to eat five to eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day with a variety of colors, choosing high ORAC foods such as those given above.
Heat destroys antioxidants, so aim to eat most of your fruits and vegetables raw or lightly cooked.
Antioxidants - The Key Players
Here are some key findings of some of the most antioxidant-rich nutrients, and a few of the benefits these nutrients have on health. These nutrients have all been explored in more detail in other articles on this website.
- Vitamin C - this is a super-nutrient associated with a healthier and longer life, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as infections, and in high doses it is a potent anti-cancer agent.
- Beta-carotene - a higher Beta-carotene intake from food has found to result in a lower overall risk of death, especially from cancer. Eating the equivalent of a carrot a day meant cutting cancer risk by a third, according to research.
- Vitamin E - adequate levels of this vitamin mean less risk of heart disease, as it protects arteries and fats from damage.
- B vitamins and glutathione - these nutrients decrease oxidation damage to DNA and mitochondria, which are cell's power producers, converting energy into forms that are usable by the cell. Glutathione is one of the key antioxidants within cells, and it helps to detoxify the body and has anti-cancer properties.
- resveratrol - this is a kind of polyphenol, which are the compounds that make berries and grapes purple in color, and it helps to recycle glutathione, one of the most potent antioxidants inside cells. High levels of this compound have been found to reduce oxidation, and the risk of heart disease and cancer, and it also has anti-aging effects.
- Co-enzyme Q10 - this wonder-nutrient helps protect cells from carcinogens and also helps to recycle Vitamin E. Studies show that it has a cancer-protective effect, but it is best known for its benefit in helping the heart to function better, protecting against heart disease and decreasing blood pressure.
- selenium - this essential mineral has protective properties against cancer and premature aging, and supplementation has been found to drastically reduce the risk of many cancers.