Antioxidants are one of those words that get thrown around a lot, even though most don’t fully understand what it means. What are antioxidants and why do we need them? Antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, leading to chain reactions that may damage cells. As endurance athletes, we create free radicals every time we swim, bike or run because our oxygen intake is increased. The good news is that antioxidants occur naturally in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, coffee, tea, wine, and yes...even chocolate. These antioxidants help prevent or stop cell damage caused by free radicals. As a general rule of thumb, you want to see lots of brightly color from fruits and vegetables in your daily diet to get the highest levels of antioxidants. Here are a few foods to make sure you have stocked your cupboard to help with recovery, performance and overall health.
Tart cherries (or cherry juice) contain vitamin C (boost immune function and skin health), vitamin A (important for vision and immune system) , calcium (promotes bone health), potassium (keeps the body functioning and plays a key role in muscle, heart, kidney and nerve cell functions) and iron. These summertime treats are one of the top antioxidant-rich foods, contain melatonin for a good night’s sleep, and fight inflammation.
Blueberries are packed full of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin K (beneficial to blood and bone health), vitamin C, and magnesium (required for normal amino acid, protein, lipid and carbohydrate metabolism). They also contain trace amounts of vitamin E, vitamin B6, and copper. These are all powerful antioxidant properties. Research has shown that these small but powerful berries attribute cancer, stroke, heart disease prevention as well as brain health, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. They are also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, folate (one of the B-vitamins (B9), important for normal tissue growth and cell function) and vitamin K. These juicy, sweet, full of antioxidants powerhouse even help protect us against sun burns. A summertime essential!
Red bell peppers are loaded with numerous vitamins and minerals. They are especially rich in vitamin C. Red bell peppers contain many healthy antioxidants, including capsanthin, violaxanthin, lutein, quercetin and luteolin. These plant compounds are associated with many health benefits including eye health and prevention of anemia
Walnuts are the king of nuts in terms of total antioxidants, and they're rich in vitamin E, fiber, folate, melatonin, and omega-3 fats. But while nutrient-dense, walnuts are also calorie-dense, so watch out!
When in doubt, just keep in mind to have a wide range of brightly colored fruits and vegetables!