Antioxidants serve as a powerful first line of defense against oxidative damage from aging, stress, and inflammation. Moreover, antioxidants appear to contain cancer-fighting properties and to support the immune system (among many other benefits). The ones included in this graphic are considered some of the most important. Though many, many foods contain these valuable antioxidants, we’ve listed a few of the most potent and popular choices for each class of antioxidants.
- Antioxidants can be broken into two general categories: antioxidant nutrients (including phytonutrients) and antioxidant enzymes. Vitamins, minerals and the various -noids detailed below are in the first category.
- Flavonoids (also called bioflavonoids) are pigment compounds and are polyphenolic. They are present in most flowering plants and number in the thousands. They are commonly grouped under anthocyanidins, proanthocyanins, and phenolics. The coolest fact about flavonoid antioxidants: they offer a double-punch because they improve vitamin C’s antioxidant capabilities!
- Carotenoids are fat-soluble. (Beta carotene is the most studied, but there are 600+ carotenoids we know about so far. Other popular ones include lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene.) Carotenoids are not interchangeable with vitamin A, nor is vitamin A an antioxidant! This is a common misconception. Beta carotene can convert to vitamin A in the body, of course.
- The antioxidant enzymes are superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), and glutathione peroxidase (GPx). SOD: Cruciferous vegetables are a must! CAT: Get enough iron from beef, tofu, mushrooms and sturdy greens to ensure proper catalase production. GPx: Selenium activates this enzyme, so get plenty of eggs, chicken, and fresh garlic in your diet!
This list of antioxidants is certainly not comprehensive, as there are thousands of phytonutrients currently being studied and more are discovered every year. Bottom line: the more you get, the better! A combination of prudent supplementation and plentiful, colorful vegetables is your smartest bet.