Around this time of year, I begin to miss the bright, colorful fruits and vegetables that I can find fresh in the farmer’s market during the summer. It seems that eating healthy during the summer is sometimes easier, because there is an abundance of fresh, nutrient-dense foods at your fingertips. But getting health-boosting nutrients, like antioxidants, is important all year long.
If, like me, you need a little mid-winter inspiration, here is a list of healthy, high antioxidant foods to eat this winter season. You might be surprised by some of these rich sources of antioxidants, which include black rice, pecans, and dark chocolate.
The Importance of Antioxidants
Many fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants like vitamin C, phenolic compounds, carotenoids, and anthocyanins. Often, the brightest colored fruits and vegetables have the highest antioxidant capacities. Antioxidants help to get rid of harmful reactive oxygen species formed during oxidation, which protects cells from damage. Oxidative damage can contribute to several diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and cancer, and consuming antioxidants can help protect you from these conditions.
Getting Antioxidants in Winter
You have probably heard that blueberries are great antioxidants. These, and other bright, colorful, high antioxidant foods are easy to find in the summer, but you won’t easily find fresh blueberries on the shelf in the winter months? Not to worry; there are plenty of foods easily available all year long that can give you a sufficient supply of antioxidants.
Black rice. As mentioned earlier, brighter, deeper colored foods often contain more antioxidants. This is true for rice, as well. While white rice is not a highly nutritious food, black rice is actually an antioxidant powerhouse, full of phenolic compounds. Most of the antioxidants in rice are found in the rice bran (the outer layer), which is removed in the production of white rice. Pigmented rice, like black rice, has almost six times the amount of phenolic compounds than white rice. Out of all the colors of rice, black rice has the highest level of antioxidant activity. So instead of using white rice in your next recipe, substitute black rice instead for a healthy alternative.
Cranberries are a health food well-known for their use in the treatment of urinary tract infections. Cranberries are harvested in the fall and can be found fresh into the winter months. The tart, almost bitter taste of cranberries is off-putting for some. But this flavor is due to the low sugar content and high antioxidant composition of these berries, which make them healthier than many other fruits. The phenolic compounds found in cranberries allow them to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol, fight cancer, and more. And these antioxidant compounds are readily absorbable and easily used by the body after ingestion. Just try not to eat over-sugared preparations of cranberries, like store-bought cranberry juice.
Pecans. It is now known that nuts are actually healthy, and studies show that pecans come out on top in the number of phenolic compounds and antioxidant capabilities compared to other nuts. They are rich in flavanoids, in particular. Consuming antioxidant-rich pecans as part of a meal can help to lower blood lipid and cholesterol levels. Eat pecans as a snack, or toss them on a green winter salad with apples.
Spices. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, which tend to be characteristics of winter cooking, all have enormous health benefits, in large part due to their antioxidant content. For example, cloves and allspice contain large amounts of an antioxidant called eugenol, which is extremely powerful in protecting the body from harm.[6,7] These spices protect against inflammation, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.[6-8] Add a few teaspoons to muffins, quick breads, or your morning oatmeal for a delicious flavor.
Dark chocolate. Fruits and vegetables can be delicious and nutritious, but winter should not be without its treats, as well. If you are in need of a satisfying treat, look no further than dark chocolate. The health benefits of dark chocolate come from its polyphenol content, with these antioxidants aiding in improving memory, boosting mood, lowering blood pressure, and more. Look for high cacao contents for the healthiest option.
This list is just the beginning of healthy, antioxidant foods to eat during the winter. When trying to choose healthy foods, remember bright, natural color is best. Winter squashes in orange and yellow also contain a lot of antioxidants, as do beets, pomegranates, and carrots. What will your favorite antioxidant foods be this winter?
Chelsea Clarkis a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute.
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