Antioxidants are the compounds found in food that stop or delay damage to the cells in the body. They are naturally found in many foods. These antioxidants ward off cell damage by removing free radicals before they can do harm to the body cells. When we eat foods containing antioxidants, the powerful compounds are released from the food through digestion. These powerful compounds known as antioxidants travel through the bloodstream to the cells. These antioxidants clean up free radicals which are highly reactive. Free radicals are the compounds which can attach to the cells to damage them. They can lead to cancer development. These free radicals are produced by our body when it processes food, sunlight and toxins like smoke, pollution and alcohol. Antioxidants either stop free radicals before they form or break them down so that they become harmless.
Although our body has a self-defence system that can reduce the impact of free radicals antioxidants could come in for its help. Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, minerals like selenium and manganese and flavonoids act as antioxidants. Non-vitamin substances, lutein and lycopene also act as antioxidants.
Here are a few plant-based foods which are loaded with antioxidants:
Vitamin A-rich vegan foods: Vitamin A or Beta-Carotene is an antioxidant that protects your cells or DNA from free radicals that can cause damage. The best plant sources of beta-carotene are carrots, sweet potato, kale, red bell pepper, papaya, butternut squash, spinach, cantaloupe, mango, and watercress.
Vitamin C-rich vegan foods: Vegan foods which are packed with vitamin C are orange, grapefruit, lemon, guava, honeydew melon, papaya, pineapple, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, kiwi, tomato, cantaloupe, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red and green bell pepper and spinach. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects body cells from free radicals by making them more effective to combat them.
Vitamin E-rich vegan foods: Foods rich in vitamin E protect the tissues from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E which is an antioxidant is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in the immune system and metabolic process. Good food sources of plant-based vitamin E are avocado, vegetable oils like canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, rice bran oil and wheat germ oil, leafy green vegetables like spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard, nuts and seeds like almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds.
Lycopene-rich plant foods: Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that plays a role in preventing cell damage through free radicals. Lycopene gives many fruits and vegetables their red colour. Tomato, guava, papaya, sweet red pepper, red cabbage, mango, and asparagus are rich sources of lycopene.
Selenium-rich vegan foods: Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, spinach, mushrooms, baked beans, banana, cooked lentils, oatmeal, brown rice, and cashews contain a good amount of selenium. These foods have antioxidant properties and thus they may help protect against free radical damage.
Manganese-rich vegan foods: Spinach, collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, avocado, black beans, brown rice, quinoa, tofu, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and edamame are high-magnesium plant-based foods. This mineral is crucial for producing antioxidants that help combat multiple diseases.
Flavonoids-rich vegan foods: Flavonoids are the antioxidants that do their job in the body by corralling cell-damaging free radicals. Plant-based food sources of flavonoids are citrus fruits, berries, apples, soybean, green tea, and red wine.
An antioxidant-packed diet should include a spectrum of colourful plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals, lentils, nuts, seeds and tea. Consume antioxidants in their natural or cooked form. A healthy and balanced plant-based diet will cover your body’s requirement of antioxidants.