The Antioxidant Diet Plan: What to Eat for Maximum Health
Antioxidants. You know you need them. You know they fight free radicals, the visible signs of aging, viruses, and general cellular degeneration—i.e., they're basically the best thing ever for your body. But we tend to think about foods that are high in antioxidants in isolation. We talk about superfoods like blueberries and kale. But what about combining the most nutrient-dense foods into meals to make up one powerful antioxi-day? We decided to look at the most antioxidant-rich foods and put together a single-day meal plan packed with the good stuff. We're calling it an antioxi-day, and you're going to want to see this. Keep scrolling for your antioxi-day diet plan!
Lucky for the caffeine-addicted among us, coffee is one of the highest sources of antioxidants around, so reach for a cup to start your day sans guilt. Alternatively, if you prefer a source of caffeine that's a bit gentler, energizing green tea is packed with the same free radical–neutralizing polyphenols and flavonoids that coffee and red wine have. Studies have shown that coffee and tea drinkers (green or black) have lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and dementia due to the impressive antioxidant profiles of the drinks.
Then whip up a green smoothie made from spinach, avocado, almond milk, and flaxseed, all of which are antioxidant powerhouses, and serve your smoothie with a side of either blackberries or blueberries sprinkled with cinnamon. In addition to vitamins A, C, and E, all of which are great for overall health and skin appearance, the spinach in the smoothie contains the flavonoid kaempferol, which reduces oxidative stress and has cancer-fighting properties.
Meanwhile, blackberries also contain kaempferol, along with vitamins C and K and folic acid, and their strong phenolic compounds (such as ellagic acid, tannins, ellagitannins, and quercetin) play a key role in cancer prevention. Though either black or blue is a strong berry choice, blueberries contain anthocyanins, which are scientifically considered nature's most powerful antioxidant. Anthocyanins suppress free radicals, and the consumption of blueberries may combat the cognitive decline from Alzheimer’s disease. Cinnamon is anti-inflammatory and contains high amounts of polyphenols, so sprinkling it over fruit doesn't just taste great; it's great for you.
When it's snack time, reach for some sliced red pepper to dip in hummus. All peppers have phenomenal abilities to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, but red wins out by far. Red pepper has significantly higher phenolic properties than any of the other colors (green, orange, or yellow), along with more beta-carotene and the flavonols quercetin and luteolin. For their part, both quercetin and luteolin are anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy agents that may help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Have a handful of walnuts (up to seven, which can be broken up for different snack times throughout the day), which are the most antioxidant-rich nut and have polyphenols like catechin. They have almost twice as many antioxidants as other nuts you may reach for (including almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, and pecans) and can prevent the plaque buildup in arteries that causes heart attack and stroke. In studies, walnuts have been shown to reduce the oxidative processes that lead to plaque buildup, and reduce inflammation, all without causing weight gain, which makes them an excellent snack.
For additional fiber and antioxidants, try one of our all-time favorite foods, any time of day: dark chocolate–dipped figs. Long a staple of the Mediterranean diet, figs have some of the highest levels of polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanins of any food. When combined with dark chocolate, they make quite the powerful pick-me-up.
For lunch, make a three-bean chili with small red beans, black beans, and pinto beans, tomatoes, and plenty of onion and garlic. Not only will the onion and garlic add robust flavor, but both contain significant antioxidants, and garlic in particular has multiple compounds that are effective at protecting against free-radical damage. Small red beans, meanwhile, rival blueberries for their antioxidant profile and, along with other colorful beans like black, are one of the best foods on earth to consume. They are naturally high in fiber and low in fat, contain no saturated fat, and boast multiple different types of antioxidants that can lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.
For dinner, serve up some salmon with a side of steamed kale and sweet potatoes (talk about colorful!). Salmon is a phenomenal source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower your risk of heart disease, depression, and dementia. It also contains taurine, an antioxidant that combats oxidative stress and helps replenish your body after exercise. In addition to an impressive list of vitamins, including A, K, C, and B6, kale contains the antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol, which may reduce the risk of many different types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, and pancreatic. Aside from being insanely delicious, sweet potato contains the antioxidants beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid, and vitamin C in high quantities.
Last but not least, treat yourself to one portion-controlled glass of red wine and some dark chocolate—both of which have high amounts of cancer-fighting polyphenols—or a berry parfait. Berries, in addition to beans and walnuts, are truly one of the best foods you can consume. Since you had blueberries and/or blackberries for breakfast, round out the day with the addition of some red berries. In studies, strawberries have been shown to be effective inhibitors of cholesterol oxidation, and they have the potential to help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases, while raspberries have the antioxidant capacity to inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells and kill colon and stomach cancer cells.
Will you try this out for an antioxi-day? What are your favorite antioxidant-rich foods? Tell us below!