By Esse Johnson
IT’S one thing to say that a food contains certain nutrients, but it’s another to test and see its activity in the body. The question isn’t solely whether a food contains the stuff, but whether the nutrient is bioavailable, this is, absorbable by cells and tissues, and whether it actually increases in the blood, or if it’s simply excreted.
Researchers have been looking into this for a long time. One study observed the action of antioxidants present in spinach, strawberries and red wine. Conclusively, they observed that antioxidant capacity increased in the blood during the four hours after consumption, and continued during the next 24 hours.
There’s much interest in what is often called the “Mediterranean” diet, as studies have shown its effectiveness in promoting health, preventing heart disease, and helping to maintain a healthy weight. A study completed in Italy looked at the plant foods, beverages and oils typically consumed in what they called the “Italian” diet to determine antioxidant capacity. The results of the study helped to determine which foods are the most potent contributors to the health-promoting, antioxidant properties of its cuisine.
Out of 34 veggies, these were the top 3 that help prevent cancer, slow down aging, heal the skin… So let’s take a closer look at some of their amazing health-promoting characteristics.
Top 3 antioxidant-rich foods and their benefits
1 Spinach. Spinach is rich in several compounds that provide antioxidants.
Beta-carotene is the precursor to vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that is praised for its benefits to the immune system; the reproductive systems for both men and women; bones and teeth; and the skin, improving moisture retention, helping to prevent wrinkles, acne, and even used to treat psoriasis.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are also carotenoids but are not precursors to vitamin A. Researchers have observed that increasing dietary intake of these can reduce risk of cataracts and macular degeneration associated with aging.
Chlorophyll, the chemical compound behind the greenness of vegetable greens, is indicated in multiple studies to have powerful antioxidant properties. One study published in 2011 details the antioxidant activity of chlorophyll in olive oil and lists several more studies that observed these properties in the plant phytonutrient.
Vitamin C is perhaps the most famous antioxidant, which is known to help tissues and bones to grow and repair themselves; assist immune function, usually speeding up the progression of the common cold; along with benefits to skin, heart and even mood.
2 Chili peppers. These hot peppers are rich in the unique compound known as capsaicin, and are packed with crucial vitamins, minerals and electrolytes.
Capsaicin is an analgesic (pain reliever). Despite the burning sensation it causes, enthusiasts say after enduring the heat of six peppers (about 20 minutes), comes an endorphin rush. That may not be your joy, but capsaicin is also used to alleviate arthritic pain and dermatological conditions like psoriasis, which may cause itching, irritation and inflammation. It’s also thermogenic, as the heat helps your body to burn calories, not to mention increasing libido. Capsaicin has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol, and research indicates that it inhibits the growth of prostate cancer.
Vitamins A and C, and cancer-fighting flavonoids beta-carotene, alpha carotene, lutein, zeaxathin and cryptoxanthin are also prevalent in this vegetable. Cryptoxanthin has been shown in studies to be a chemo preventive agent against lung cancer.
Vitamin B pyridoxine is used in the body to metabolize protein and help to metabolize and use fats. It plays a role in the synthesis of serotonin and norepinephrine, the feel-good neurotransmitters. The vitamin is said to help ease premenstrual syndrome and nausea associated with morning sickness during pregnancy; and if taken with magnesium, which is also prevalent in these peppers, can help to prevent type I hyperoxaluria kidney stones.
Vitamins E and K, and minerals calcium, copper, iron, manganese and phosphorus, and the electrolyte potassium are also found in peppers. It’s no wonder it’s considered a key superfood!
3 Red bell peppers. These peppers are the same food as green peppers, only more mature. That extra aging actually increases the concentration of certain nutrients, sort of the way we become smarter and more useful to society as we become adults. Nutritionally, red bell peppers are quite similar to red chili peppers. They’re rich in vitamins A, C and B6. They exhibit a thermogenic and aphrodisiac action, though milder than hot peppers.
Lycopene, abundant in red bell peppers, may be more powerful than its brothers and sisters in the carotenoid family as well as vitamin E, say researchers. It may also be a key in the metabolism of fats in the liver, which is necessary to keep the liver from diseases such as fibrosis, cirrhosis and malignant hepatoma, the most common form of liver cancer.
MSM, the acronym for the chemical compound methylsulfonylmethane, or just sulfur, is praised for increasing flexibility in joints, muscle tissue and even the skin. It improves permeability of the cells, helping them to release toxins and receive nutrients, which also quickens recovery from strenuous exercise. The lactic acid produced from necessary strain in exercise, which builds muscle, causes soreness; but MSM helps the body to naturally detox lactic acid, reducing pain quickly.
MSM is also touted for its beautifying powers, helping the body to produce collagen and keratin, strengtheners for nails and hair, as well as youthful-looking skin.
Hopefully the next time you have an option to choose one or all of these superfoods for your salad or munchies, you’ll remember their many disease-preventive, health-promoting benefits. Dip them in lemon-garlic hummus, or just enjoy them alone. It makes for good coffee-talk.
Other top superfoods rich in antioxidants
If you have sensitivities or allergies to any of the top 3, here’s a list of the Top 10 antioxidant-rich vegetables that are also staples of the Mediterranean diet:
- Chili Peppers
- Red Bell Peppers
- Beets & Beet Roots
- Swiss Chard (stalk)