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antioxidant-rich salad filled with colorful produce

Why You Should Fill Up On Antioxidants While You’re Sheltering In Place

With many of us stuck at home indefinitely, it’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of eating comfort food. But the stress of the current situation makes fueling our body with nutrients that support our immune system and general health extra important. Antioxidants, in particular, are a must.

“When our body fights off viruses and bacteria, free radicals are formed during the fight,” explains dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., author of Eating in Color. “Antioxidants stabilize these unstable free radicals, helping to minimize the damage they do, which can slow the effects of oxidative damage and lower your risk of chronic disease.”

The best way to increase your antioxidant intake is through your diet, specifically by consuming whole, plant-based foods, says dietitian Jeanette Kimszal, R.D.N.

“This means having at least nine to 10 servings—or five to six cups—of vegetables a day,” she says. To get there, add two cups of antioxidant-rich foods to each of your three meals. Otherwise, try to spread another three cups amongst your snacks.

Generally, filling your plate with as many natural colors as possible means you’re getting your antioxidant fix. However, even certain less-vibrant foods (and your favorite beverage) provide these powerful compounds.

7 Ways To Get More Antioxidants While Sheltering In Place

Focus on these foods and drinks to get your fill of antioxidants.

1. Coffee

Believe it or not, your morning cup of Joe contains a good amount of antioxidants—several thousand, in fact, according to a study published in Nutrition Journal.

Read More: 8 Healthy Ways To Flavor Your Coffee

“Coffee is the largest source of antioxidants in most people’s diets, providing about one to two grams daily,” says Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. Both light and dark roasts have high levels; just cut back on the cream and sugar, which can turn coffee into more of a dessert.

2. Dark, Leafy Greens

The darker the skin on a vegetable, the higher its antioxidant level, according to Adams.

Some top contenders? Dark, leafy greens like Swiss chard, kale, and spinach, all of which contain high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. “These vitamins are depleted in the body when we experience stress, so it’s crucial to consume them when we’re under stressful circumstances,” says Kimszal.

It’s no wonder the USDA recommends two cups of leafy vegetables a day.

3. Bright, Vibrant Veggies

Vibrant veggies—including carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, peppers, and tomatoes—are also among the best sources of antioxidants, according to Largeman-Roth.

Colorful beets have anti-inflammatory properties and protect blood vessels, she adds. In addition to their ability to reduce blood pressure and inflammation, as well as prevent cardiovascular disease, recent research published in Molecules found that beets contain cancer-fighting agents.

4. Colorful Fruits

Most fruits—especially the deeply colorful ones, like oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe, mango, kiwi, pineapple, and strawberries—are packed with antioxidants.

Many are especially high in vitamin C, which helps your body absorb iron, another essential nutrient that is imperative for a healthy immune system, explains Dr. Adams. After all, iron provides our cells with the oxygen they need to perform optimally.

Read More: The Best Time Of Day To Take Vitamin C

If you’re not a huge fruit fan, Dr. Adams suggests supplementing with 500 milligrams of vitamin C per day.

5. Brazil Nuts

Nuts and seeds are vital for good health—and most people don’t get their fair share, according to a study published in JAMA. “Nuts are loaded with healthy fat and supply vital minerals into the diet,” says dietitian Suzanne Dixon, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.N.

Brazil nuts, in particular, offer antioxidant benefits, since they contain high amounts of the mineral selenium. (Research shows it has antioxidant properties!)

“Just a couple of Brazil nuts will provide the RDA for selenium, which is 400 micrograms,” says Dixon.

6. Legumes

Most people don’t think of legumes (i.e. beans and lentils) as great sources of antioxidants, but they are actually among the best, according to Dixon. In fact, legumes are loaded with a number of antioxidant nutrients, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, and tannins.

One study published in the journal Nutrients found that including black beans, specifically, in your diet enhances your antioxidant status by providing these phytochemical components, plus protein and dietary fiber.

7. A Multivitamin

Supplements cannot replace all of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in fruits and veggies. However, they can help you fill in the gaps—especially in times like these.

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If you don’t eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, Adams recommends taking a multivitamin that contains vitamin C, B vitamins, and vitamin A. This will support your body’s antioxidant status—and overall health—and help keep your foundation strong.

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