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A guide to understanding antioxidant-rich foods
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A guide to understanding antioxidant-rich foods

Have you ever purchased food or beverage products labelled ‘antioxidant-rich’ without knowing what the term means? You’re not alone. Happiest Health reaches out to an expert to understand antioxidants and the halo around their role in our wellbeing.
antioxidant rich foods
Representational image | Shutterstock

Animation student Mahir Chaddha from Gurugram was diagnosed with digestive issues at a very early age. Thankfully, timely intervention by his nutritionist, helped him to manage those issues.  

“My nutritionist asked me to include dark pigmented, leafy, root vegetables like spinach and beetroot that are rich in antioxidants in my diet as they effectively subdue such conditions at an early stage,” shares Chaddha.  

What are they?  

As per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, antioxidants are artificial or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage. But in common language, antioxidants are chemical compounds present in certain food items and which counter the wear and tear of our body. They stabilise the reactive and unstable free radicals which are harmful to the body. 

According to nutritionist and diet coach Preety Tyagi, free radicals are created through normal metabolic processes as part of digestion and energy production. The body also produces them in response to environmental and lifestyle factors, such as ageing, pollution, and surgeries.  

“When the body is unable to handle and eliminate excessive amounts of free radicals effectively, it causes oxidative stress – which can damage our cells, proteins enzymes, and DNA and further cause many other harmful effects such as chronic inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even infertility in some cases,” says Tyagi.  

Colour and antioxidants 

The pigment-rich antioxidant food items prescribed to Chadha are backed by research. A 2020 study evaluating the relationship between colour and the number of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables found the following.  

Fruits and vegetables that are purple, magenta, blue, and red and rich with the pigment anthocyanin high amounts of antioxidants and potentially provide more than 20 percent of the required daily antioxidant intake; chlorophyll-rich green vegetables are among the low-antioxidant foods.  

The FRAP index  

Pigmentation apart, the FRAP (ferric reducing ability of plasma) analysis is another effective test to determine the antioxidant content of foods. Simply put, it is a measure of the ability of foods to neutralise a specific free radical. 

 Jyostna Tripathi, nutritionist and diet counselor, J’s nutrijize, Bangaluru, opines, “The FRAP assay is the only assay that directly measures antioxidants in a sample compared to other assays. It quantifies the antioxidants in the sample based on its ability to reduce [the harmful free iron ion] Fe3+ to Fe2+.” (Fe3+ is an unstable reactive iron molecule and Fe2+ is a stable unreactive molecule). 

The greater the FRAP value, the higher the number of antioxidants in the diet.  

Here are five common and easily available food items that are antioxidant-rich 

Beetroot 

Nutritionist Tyagi calls beetroot the supreme superfood. While white and yellow beets make for attractive dishes, red beets are found to have essential antioxidants such as rutin and caffeic acid. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the betalain chemicals, which are responsible for the beet’s red colour, have also been demonstrated.  

Spinach 

Spinach is a vitamin-rich, mineral-rich, and antioxidant-rich green leafy vegetable. It has a low-calorie count, making it a great addition to salads and other dishes. It is one of the top sources of hemoglobin and acts as an immunity booster that is much needed by the human body. Two antioxidants found in spinach are spinachzeaxanthin, and lutein, which may help with eye health, according to a 2013 study. 

Nuts 

Nuts provide a good source of healthy fats while having a lower protein and carbohydrate content, which makes them a great addition to our diet plan. Tyagi says each type of nut has its own set of nutrients, phytochemicals, and fat types. “Walnuts, for example, have the most plant omega-3s, while Brazil nuts have the most selenium. Most nuts also include phytochemicals that help to lower cholesterol, such as resveratrol and plant sterols.” 

She adds, “Not just as a source of antioxidants, nuts should be in our daily diet also for the overall well-being of our body, for heart health, and for healthy and glowing skin, etc. They can be paired with almost all the breakfast cereals in their raw form, one can roast their favourite nuts as an on-the-go munch.” 

Sweet potatoes 

The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a starchy root vegetable with a sweet flavour. The edible core beneath the thin skin can be orange, white, purple, or yellow. 

Tyagi says, “Don’t peel sweet potatoes if you want to get the most nutrients out of them; simply wash and scrub them thoroughly before cooking.” According to her, the antioxidants in the peel of sweet potatoes, particularly purple ones, may slow down oxidation, lowering the risk of cancer. 

Kidney beans 

Kidney beans are one of the most affordable and easily obtained sources of antioxidants.  

Cooked beans provide 80 calories, zero cholesterol, a lot of complex carbohydrates, and little fat per ⅓ cup. Beans are also a great source of fiber, potassium, and B vitamins, all of which help digestion. Consuming beans may lower blood cholesterol, a major contributor to heart disease, and prevent colon cancer.  

They are substantially filling in a diet and can be consumed in many ways – with rice or bread, or in soups and a burrito.  

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