Easy Tips to Boost Antioxidants

Bright orange pumpkin assortment by The Healthy RD
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Want some tips to boost antioxidants in your meals? The antioxidants you have in your diet can help your body be so much healthier than if you don’t eat antioxidant-rich foods. 

If you have one goal make it this one: increase antioxidant foods. 

In this post, learn about the various types of antioxidants, where to find them in foods, and how they help you be healthy. 

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds that decrease free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body.

Continuous intake of low-nutrient and high-sugar foods will make the body produce free radicals.

These unstable molecules are formed when unhealthy food is digested.  This leads to the oxidative stress that we just mentioned.

To combat oxidative stress, it is important to increase the antioxidant intake in your diet.

Antioxidants are substances that help to protect cells from oxidation and improve health. You should include antioxidants to alleviate the harm from toxins, pollutants, chemicals, an overactive immune response, and more.

Luckily for us, antioxidants come from most whole foods and they come in all kinds.

Our bodies make a lot of antioxidants, but they also come from the foods we eat. 

For example, antioxidants include beta-carotene, glutathione, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, zeaxanthin, collagen, astaxanthin, coenzyme Q10, vitamin E, and many more. All of these antioxidants are found in a variety of whole foods.

Foods that are high in antioxidants protect us from chronic diseases and help keep our bodies naturally energized

Related post: Pumpkin for Constipation: Its Gentle and Evidence-Based Benefits

Low Antioxidant Intake Harms the Body

High-calorie meals WITHOUT antioxidants can lead to cell damage, according to work done by the Agricultural Research Service.

This cell damage may lead to diseases like heart disease, cancer, and more. The biggest worry for some may also be true: weight gain.

Our body’s calorie-burning machines, known as the mitochondria, respond poorly to oxidative stress.

Key points: ultra-processed meals cause cell damage.

  • The repeated parties, the after-parties, the cocktails, and the desserts roll the tally higher and higher for negative health consequences.
  • Days leading up to the holidays and post-holiday leftovers and celebrations have a bigger impact on your health than the single meal or celebration meal itself.
  • Repeated gooey, sticky, decadent white foods are some things we need to watch out for because they deplete our body’s antioxidant levels.

Boost the Antioxidant Glutathione

Glutathione is THE most prominent antioxidant in the body, so it should be the biggest focus of getting healthy through antioxidants.

The antioxidant glutathione is made in the liver and helps to regulate digestion and provides immune support. Additionally, glutathione has tremendous roles in keeping us healthy. Like other antioxidants, it protects cells from stress brought on by environmental and dietary triggers.

What does glutathione do?

  • Glutathione helps regenerate vitamins C and E (R)
  • Helps other antioxidants to work in the body including lutein and zeaxanthin (R)
  • Helps the liver to better metabolize toxins and also helps to improve the elimination of these toxins by the kidneys (R).
  • Improves mitochondria function, which will make digestion more efficient(R)
  • Higher levels of glutathione have been associated with better health in the elderly

What Makes Glutathione Low?

This antioxidant deserves a lot of credit for improving health. If you are low in glutathione chances are will be more likely to get a chronic disease. Low levels have been related to high alcohol consumption and constant exposure to chemical toxins.  These include the following:

Alcohol intake can get out of hand with all the social engagements. So if you are drinking more than 1 to 2 drinks a day you should be concerned about your glutathione levels.

How Much Glutathione Do We Need?

There is no established recommended daily intake for glutathione.  However, maintaining an adequate level is important for the health of all your cells. One study measured a healthy range of glutathione to be between 440 to 654 mcg/dL in the blood.

An example of how much glutathione helps protect us is in the case of tobacco smokers. For these people glutathione-rich foods increase glutathione blood levels by 16 percent and reduce cell damage from smoking by 29 percent (R).

Foods That Increase Glutathione

Foods that are naturally high in glutathione include mushrooms, avocados, spinach, and okra(R) (R).

Sulfur foods will naturally increase levels of this antioxidant in the body because glutathione is made up of molecules that contain sulfur (R).

Other healthy foods naturally boost glutathione too.

Foods that boost glutathione include:

Other Tips to Increase Glutathione

  1. Chronic stress can severely diminish glutathione levels. Adding stress-reducing activities during the holidays can help prevent this from happening.
  2. Meditation has been shown to increase the presence of glutathione. Those who practice meditation have been shown to have 20 percent higher levels of glutathione (R).
  3. Be Grateful: Use the time after dinner to reflect on what you are thankful for. It could help improve your glutathione levels!
  4. If you are highly deficient it may be beneficial to supplement antioxidants like glutathione. One way to maximize glutathione is by supplementing n-acetylcysteine. However, we recommend getting a micronutrient panel to see what your glutathione levels actually are.

Boost the Antioxidant Lutein

Lutein is an important carotene that protects the eye.

Its antioxidant abilities may help brain structure and function by serving to potentially reduce inflammation. High lutein intake is related to reduced rates of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), ocular inflammation, cataracts, and more (R).

People who eat a lot of foods with lutein and zeaxanthin have a 30% less chance of getting AMD (R). Sadly, westernized countries are eating less lutein than ever (R).

Supplementation of lutein with other carotenes like zeaxanthin has shown improvements in eye health and even improvements in brain function (R).

How Much Lutein Do We Need?

While no established RDI for lutein exists, generally speaking, 5 to 10 mg per day appears to be beneficial (R).

Tips to Get More Lutein

Fill your plate with some greens.  Some of the best food sources of lutein include kale, spinach, parsley, peas, leafy lettuce, squash, egg yolks, and Brussels sprouts (R).

Boost the Antioxidant Lycopene

Like lutein and beta-carotene, lycopene is part of the carotenoid family.

The lycopene in these foods is what gives them a reddish hue (R). This antioxidant has an abundance of health properties. 

Research involving controlled studies indicates high intakes of lycopene may decrease the chances of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx (R). Pesticides are no match for lycopene and they can protect the body from the harm that might come from consuming these toxins (R). Like other carotenoids, lycopene is able to help protect the body from cancer.

One analysis showed a lower chance of breast cancer when there were higher levels of lycopene in the blood by reducing oxidative stress (R).

How Much Lycopene Do We Need?

There is no RDA for lycopene but on average, people get around 6 to 10 mg per day (R). Ideal amounts appear to be around 8 to 21 mg per day for improving health.

Tips to Get More Lycopene

Add red foods: Lycopene is found in fruits such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, apricots, red oranges, watermelon, rosehips, shrimp, and guava.  Lycopene should be eaten with healthy fat and cooked to enhance its absorption (R).

Tomatoes are a fruit that contains lycopene, but it is also a nightshade vegetable that may have pro-inflammatory effects in people with autoimmune disease.  Always be aware of how food affects you when you eat it.

Boost the Antioxidant Selenium

Selenium is not only a mineral but it is also an antioxidant. It is needed for several body processes to keep our bodies healthy and thriving. Additionally, selenium is needed for reproduction, thyroid function, DNA production, and immune support.

It functions as an antioxidant to prevent cell damage (R). Another perk is that selenium helps glutathione activate and work in the body (R). 

In other words, if you want to pump up your glutathione pump up your selenium intake.

How Much Selenium Do We Need?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of selenium is set by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) at 55 micrograms per day for adolescents and adults of all ages (R).

People with thyroid conditions or those with gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s are often deficient in selenium due to poor absorption or increased needs (R).

Those who are highly stressed are also at risk for selenium deficiency (R)

Tips To Get More Antioxidants With Selenium

The best sources of selenium include grass-fed organ meats, fish, and seafood.

Muscle meats are also an excellent way to get selenium in your diet.

If you can, include turkey, organ meats like grassfed liver, crab, tuna, halibut, shrimp, salmon, clams, or oysters.

Add some Brazil nuts to your breakfast oatmeal or crack some Brazil nuts between meals as a healthy snack.

However, the selenium content found in the soil varies widely.

For example, Brazil nuts are very high in selenium, but its content of selenium depends on how and where it is harvested.  Another example is broccoli; it can have 10 times less selenium if soil content is low (R).

Worried you may have a selenium deficiency? The best way to know is to get a micronutrient panel. Some companies that test for this are Science-Based Nutrition, Vibrant, and Spectracell.

Boost the Antioxidant Vitamin A

The active form of vitamin A is called retinol or retinyl palmitate.

Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant in the body. 

Interestingly, new research is showing us that some people need both plant and animal forms of vitamin A for their best health.

The RDA for retinol is 800-1200 mcg per day.

Why Do We Need Active Vitamin A?

A huge percentage of the population, up to 40%, can’t effectively convert carrots (or carotenoids) into retinol inside the body. 

However, the message the public gets is to eat a carrot for vitamin A.  But eating a carrot for vitamin A just isn’t effective for everyone.  New research finds these gene variations in vitamin A metabolism from plant sources of vitamin A are quite common.

Also, consider this fact: about 70-90% of retinol, or active vitamin A, is absorbed, but even under optimal circumstances, only 3% or less of carotenes from carrots or vegetables are absorbed.

Tips to Get More Vitamin A

Enjoy organ meats and giblets. They are the best sources of active vitamin A at the table (R). Carotenes, like beta-carotene, have vitamin A potential but aren’t active in vitamin A. You can also supplement your diet with organ meats, including kidney organ meats.

Precautions with Vitamin A

Since vitamin A is such a bioactive compound, toxicity can occur at high doses.

For this reason, it is best from naturally sourced types of foods like organ meats and eggs.  

But if you cringe at the thought of this, you can always get gene tested, blood level tested, and supplement accordingly under careful observation of your practitioner.

Boost the Antioxidant Beta Carotene

Beta-carotene is a very important antioxidant.

It is distinguished by its orange-yellow pigment found in colorful fruits and vegetables. This pigment is fat-soluble which means it is more readily absorbed when consumed with foods that are fats like avocado or cold-pressed olive oil. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant because it prevents cells and tissues from being damaged by stress.

Importantly, a high food intake of beta carotene greatly reduces the risk of cancer, such as stomach, lung, prostate, breast, head, and neck cancers.

Cancer progression was also shown to slow after people eat at least five servings of green, orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables per day.  The combination of beta-carotene along with other antioxidants found in these same fruits and vegetables decrease cancer risks.

How Much Beta Carotene Do We Need?

Just 3 to 6 mg of beta carotene will lower your chances of getting a chronic disease (R).

Where Can You Find the Best Sources of Beta Carotene?

Beta-carotene is highest in orange, yellow, and red-colored foods and I’m not talking about Mac & Cheese.

Find beta carotene in carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, mango, and apricots (R).

The best thing is that you only need 1 serving (½ a cup) a day to improve your antioxidant levels.

Healthy Tip: sit down to a plate of vegetables BEFORE the meal to increase your beta-carotene foods. This will both fill you up so you won’t overeat AND give you lots of beta carotene.

Enjoy a serving of beta-carotene-rich foods like sweet potatoes at your meal too. Have your family and friends bring a dish of spiced carrots.

Boost the Antioxidant Vitamin C

Vitamin C: it’s trendy again, but for good reason.

This is partly because Vitamin C is required for making collagen.  

Another thing that vitamin C does is that it helps make L-carnitine, a substance important in energy production and a fuel for neurotransmitters.

Also, vitamin C is involved in making protein in the body.

Not surprisingly, vitamin C is also an important antioxidant.

By the way, the RDI for vitamin C is 75-120 mg (R). However, new research is shedding light on conditions that benefit from much more vitamin C than the RDI, such as in cancer in clinical trials (R).

Exposure to toxins, being overweight, smoking, alcohol, and poor diets may increase the amount of vitamin C your body needs.

How to Get More Vitamin C

Add some fresh fruits and vegetables to the Thanksgiving table or serve a tray of vegetables and fruits to snack on before the meal.  You can include citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe are all great sources of vitamin C in the diet.

Tips to Increase Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is becoming increasingly low in people’s diets.

Because of this, you should make sure to get enough vitamin E by eating vitamin E rich foods and considering a natural vitamin E supplement.

As a potent antioxidant, Vitamin E may reduce eye damage from the oxidative stress of diabetes, cataracts, and more (R).

Additionally, vitamin E in its natural forms also helps regulate genes, and by doing so, is able to help control abnormal cell growth.

When people have a high intake of vitamin E-rich foods, they have a reduced risk of heart disease consistently over time.

Vitamin E-rich foods also reduce the risks of most chronic diseases (R).

However, at least ninety percent of men and women fail to get enough vitamin E in their diet, even at the paltry RDI levels of 20 mg per day.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that as many as 1 in 3 adults with diabetes or metabolic syndrome also have vitamin E deficiency (R).

You should know that two categories of vitamin E are crucial for health: Tocotrienols and Tocopherols.

  • Tocotrienol-rich foods include paprika, annatto seed, rice bran, palm oil (sustainably harvested), and coconut oil.
  • Tocopherol-rich foods include peanut butter, chili powder, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, almonds, and poppy seeds. Add in some paprika or annatto seed to your dishes for extra color and flavor.  Mix in some almonds or sunflower seeds into your salads or sweet potato dishes for an extra vitamin E boost.

Boost the Antioxidant Zeaxanthin

Zeaxanthin is a yellow antioxidant that improves eye health. This healthy antioxidant has been shown to have similar effects on the body to vitamin E.

One major benefit of zeaxanthin is that it also improves the availability of another antioxidant called glutathione as mentioned above (R).

Like lutein, zeaxanthin helps increase beneficial pigment in the eye lens (R). Lower levels of zeaxanthin put individuals at risk for vision loss (R). Zeaxanthin prevents AMD by prohibiting blue light from damaging the eye.

As a powerful antioxidant, this compound has been shown to neutralize free radicals found in the retina thus lowering the risk of AMD (R).

How Much Zeaxanthin Do You Need?

There is no established RDA, but the research suggests that about 6 mg/day of zeaxanthin from fruit and vegetables (compared with less than 2 mg/day) may decrease the risk of advanced AMD (R).

Tips to Get More Zeaxanthin

Corn gets a bad rap, but consider this: ground corn is the BEST source of zeaxanthin of all. 

Add a corn pudding or a tasty corn salad as a side to your turkey dinner.  A quarter-pound of corn tortilla contains over 10 grams of zeaxanthin [R]!

Also, add in some paprika or saffron (R).

Eggs, orange pepper, honeydew, or mango also boost up the zeaxanthin in your diet (R). Similar to lycopene, zeaxanthin absorbs better when it is chopped and cooked (R).

Pairing zeaxanthin-rich foods with healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil also will help to improve its absorption (R).

Spice it Up

Spices not only flavor your food but can pump up your antioxidant intake.

Here are some spice and herb ideas to boost antioxidants in your meals:

  • Cinnamon can be added to more than just fruit and baked goods. Add it to your veggies like sweet potatoes and squash to give it a natural sweetness without all the sugar.
  • Ginger helps support digestion and keeps you healthy by pumping up your immune system. Ginger has a great taste and makes vegetables yummy. Add it to sauces, stir-fries, sauté, dressings, and baking.
  • Garlic can be used in everything from soups and stews to dressings sautés, and salads.
  • Cumin is typically used in curry and taco seasoning. I like to add it to everything from eggs to salad dressings at holiday meals.
  • Basil is a great herb to cook with. Healthy Thanksgiving tip: Add basil to sauces, stews, bakes, and sautes.
  • Southwest Spice Mix is a great way to boost antioxidants in your meals.
  • Cilantro gives meals an antioxidant kick
  • Oregano is a potent antioxidant to add to any meal

Recipes to Try to Boost Antioxidants

Try this Crustless Pumpkin Pie recipe for a dairy-free, gluten-free dessert with no added sugar. It features pumpkin which is a high source of beta-carotene.

Butternut squash is a holiday favorite.

Try this easy recipe that combines cauliflower, and the antioxidant power of garlic. Cauliflower is rich in glutathione and butternut squash contains beta-carotene so you’re getting a double dose of nutrients that will help your body thrive.

This cauliflower recipe contains antioxidant-rich cauliflower with the health-promoting benefits of parsley and garlic. Try it as a side in your holiday feast.

Broccoli Rabe is a bitter-tasting green that is not traditionally associated with the holidays. You can start a new tradition by adding this veggie for optimal nutrition since it is rich in vitamins A and C as well as glutathione. The recipe features lemon, onion, and chili flakes. If you are not into spice you can hold the chili.

Experiment with making celery juice.

Summary

Add colorful vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and spices as well as some organ meats and fish to your meals for a healthier mind and body this season.

While anyone can benefit from using some of these tips, this is not medical advice and should be used for informational purposes only. Make sure to check with your doctor before making any changes to your diet and lifestyle.

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