A sweet-toothed child eats chocolate. Selective focus.

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Each day, our bodies face threats that come swinging from every direction. A big one is called free radicals, which often come from things like environmental toxins such as heavy metals. While free radicals can also be a byproduct of very normal things like digestion, external factors can create an excess.

When there are too many, they can cause oxidative stress, leading to cell and DNA damage. Antioxidants fight back, protecting your cells from this damage. Fortunately, you can get lots of antioxidants through diet to support your body. Here are some of the best foods to fight free radicals:

1. Broccoli sprouts

Broccoli sprouts are baby broccoli. They are rich in a chemical called glucoraphanin, which converts to sulforaphane, a component in cruciferous veggies with powerful antioxidant effects. During digestion, the process of chewing broccoli sprouts is what allows this conversion. Although sulforaphane may be produced from virtually any cruciferous vegetable (like Brussels sprouts and kale), it may not be optimal to get it from these sources.

Sulforaphane content is highest in raw or lightly steamed veggies. Eating raw Brussels sprouts isn’t very fun, however, and also isn’t likely to be easy on your stomach. Broccoli sprouts are more likely to be well-tolerated. They’re also easy to sprinkle onto any sandwich or salad. Studies so far have demonstrated that sulforaphane may confer anti-cancer benefits, support heart health, and protect the liver.

broccoli sprouts in a soup
Photo by jack3928 from Pixabay

2. Dark Chocolate

Chocolate lovers, rise! Dark chocolate tends to contain more cocoa than normal milk chocolate and has more antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavonols to help fight oxidative stress. Research has suggested that these antioxidants may help reduce inflammation and raise HDL “good” cholesterol levels.

Chocolate bar pieces
Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

3. Beans

Beans are cheap, healthy, and a satisfying source of plant protein and fiber. However, that’s not all they offer, as beans are also packed with antioxidants. Black and red beans are usually considered to have the highest amounts, per current research. It’s important to note that some studies have shown the canning process may reduce the antioxidant content.

red and brown beans
Photo by Tijana Drndarski from Unsplash

4. Berries

Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, you name it. Berries in general are some of the best fruits to eat. They are high in fiber, lower in sugar, and rich in potent antioxidants. Berries are filled with a group of deep blue, red, and purple pigments called anthocyanins. They have been shown to lower blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and therefore heart disease risk.

mixed raspberry blueberry and strawberry in clear cartons
(Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash)

5. Beetroot

Beetroots, commonly referred to as beets, are earthy and vibrant. A few years ago, you may have seen girls on TikTok use it to tint their cheeks. However, they are a fantastic food to eat as well, with a stacked antioxidant profile. Specifically, beets are full of betalains, which are natural pigments that have been shown to prevent DNA damage, reduce LDL cholesterol, and oxidative stress.

white plate topped with sliced up beets
Photo by Rens D from Unsplash

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About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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