Everyone raves about antioxidants—which encompass a variety of health-promoting compounds within fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods. But to truly understand their potential health benefits, we need to talk briefly about free radicals and oxidative stress.Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable molecules within your body. They are electron-deficient and they can do damage by stealing electrons from other molecules and destabilizing them. They’re generated all the time via natural processes such as exercise and when your body converts food into energy, as well as when you’re exposed to sunlight, cigarette smoke, radiation, air pollution, and other toxins.
When you eat well and lead a healthy lifestyle, your body can often keep free radicals in check. At high concentrations, however, free radicals can be quite damaging—they contribute to a process called oxidative stress, which triggers damage throughout your body’s cells, including to the DNA within your cells. This cellular damage, in turn, can promote inflammation and is thought to play a role in a variety of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, and more.
The good news: The antioxidants present in plant food are believed to help counteract this process. The term “antioxidants” refers to a broad class of phytochemical compounds that neutralize free radicals by donating an electron to them, thereby reducing their reactivity. While the body can make some of its own antioxidants, we rely on dietary sources of antioxidants to get the amount we need to keep oxidative stress in check.
Fruits, veggies, and other plant foods are often rich sources of different antioxidants such as beta-carotene, lycopene, flavonoids, anthocyanins, polyphenols, selenium, and vitamins A, C, and E; and decades of epidemiological research has noted a consistent association between diets rich in fruits and veggies and lower risk of chronic diseases.
Out of all plant foods, berries are some of the top sources of antioxidants, particularly of anthocyanins—a powerful subtype of antioxidants that gives many berries their blue, purple, and red color. Many berries contain antioxidant vitamin C as well. Below, discover the 9 antioxidant-packed fruits that we include in Ka’Chava:
1. Acai Berry
Deep purple acai berries are native to Central and South American and have long been a food source for indigenous peoples in the Amazon region. While there hasn’t been a large amount of research into the health benefits of acai, one study found that consumption of acai pulp and juice had an antioxidant effect in those who consumed it; while another study suggested that acai’s antioxidants had a protective effect on microglial cells, which are responsible for removing damaged neurons and maintaining the health of the central nervous system. Anthocyanins are one type of antioxidant present in acai berries, but researchers believe that other yet-to-be-discovered compounds also contribute to their antioxidant effects.
2. Maqui Berry
Maqui berries, which are native to the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile, are a deep purple and look similar to acai berries. Scientific analysis reveals that maqui berries are a top source of antioxidant compounds, including anthocyanins, flavonoids, quercetin, and ellagic acid. Results from one study suggest that the anthocyanin antioxidants present in a maqui berry extract suppress the death of photoreceptor cells in the retina after exposure to light by decreasing the production of reactive oxygen species or free radicals. This supports the idea that antioxidant-rich foods may help preserve vision and combat age-related macular degeneration.
3. Camu Camu
Camu camu is an ultra-tart berry that grows in the flooded areas of the Amazon rainforest. It’s perhaps best known for its very high levels of the antioxidant vitamin C. One tablespoon of pure camu camu berry powder contains about 144 mg (or 240% of your daily value) of vitamin C. Camu camu also contains a variety of other antioxidant compounds, including anthocyanins, carotenoids, flavonoids (including quercetin), and ellagic acid. In one study, people who drank camu camu juice (which contained about 1,000 mg of vitamin C) every day for a week had decreased levels of interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein, and decreased reactive oxygen species—which are measurements of inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. The same effect was not seen with vitamin C supplements alone, suggesting that camu camu’s combination of antioxidant compounds has a greater effect than a single nutrient.
They may be more of a basic berry than some others mentioned here, but strawberries still pack loads of nutrients. Some of the main antioxidant compounds present in strawberries include ellagic acid, anthocyanins, catechins, quercetin, and kaempferol. As the authors of one research review write, antioxidants like these appear to help lower risk of cardiovascular events by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, improving vascular function, and more. Additionally, strawberry extracts have been shown to inhibit COX enzymes, which may curb inflammation. A cup of sliced strawberries also contains about 98 mg (or 162% of your daily value) of antioxidant vitamin C.
Cherries (especially tart cherries, which are found in Ka’Chava) are a rich source of polyphenol antioxidant compounds, including proanthocyanins, anthocyanins, and flavonols. In one research review on the benefits of both sweet and tart cherries, their consumption was shown to decrease markers of oxidative stress in 8 out of 10 studies, inflammation in 11 out of 16 studies, arthritis in 5 out of 5 studies, and exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength in 8 out of 9 studies. Cherry consumption also tended to improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels in diabetic individuals. According to the review’s authors, these results suggest that consumption of sweet or tart cherries boosts health by way of decreasing oxidative stress.
Deeply hued blackberries are known to contain ellagic acid, tannins, ellagitannins, quercetin, gallic acid, anthocyanins, and cyanidins, all of which possess antioxidant and other beneficial properties. Research has shown that these compounds may help inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol and offer protection against age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
Blueberries may just be one of the healthiest berries on the planet. Their anthocyanins are considered to be one of nature’s most potent antioxidants, and blueberry consumption has been associated with a variety of cognitive benefits including improved memory in older adults. Blueberries have also been shown to help maintain healthy blood flow through a variety of mechanisms such as reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and maintaining healthy endothelial functioning. In a study comparing blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, blueberries were found to have the strongest total antioxidant capacity.
Raspberries are loaded with beneficial polyphenol plant compounds, particularly ellagitannins and anthocyanins, which confer antioxidant benefits. Anthocyanins are also what give raspberries their red hue. In one review, authors write that a growing body of research supports a potential role for raspberries in reducing the risk of metabolically based chronic diseases. Emerging research suggests that the interplay of the gut microbiome and the polyphenols within these berries may be responsible for their beneficial effects.
The Bottom Line…
While no single food is a magic bullet for health, consuming plenty of antioxidant-rich plant foods in your diet is a smart idea for optimizing overall wellbeing and minimizing the damage caused by free radicals. Research suggests compounds found in the foods above assist in supporting healthy cholesterol levels and the gut microbiome, reducing pain, and aiding in the fight against cancer. Get your fill of antioxidants by eating a diet rich in whole and minimally processed foods, including Ka’Chava.