If you’ve adopted a vegan diet, meaning you consume a diet free of all animal products, how do you know you’re getting enough nutrients? For instance, many vegans and vegetarians choose to supplement vitamins and minerals they’re missing in a traditional vegan or vegetarian diet, like calcium (found in many animal dairy products).
However, one largely overlooked element in vegan diets is antioxidants, which are found in a variety of foods, and luckily in many fruits and veggies (i.e., broccoli, walnuts, kidney beans, tomatoes, berries, and artichokes, etc.). Antioxidants are naturally-occurring compounds that eradicate free radical damage in our bodies. They exist under many names in our diets, most commonly:
Lycopene in tomatoes
- Beta-carotene in carrots
- Resveratrol in red and purple grapes and berries
- Flavanols in dark chocolate
Here are a few reasons why antioxidants are so important in a healthy vegan diet:
1. Heart healthy antioxidants
Foods abundant in antioxidants are not just good for energy, they’re also good for your heart! In fact, research from the Cleveland Clinic, notes that if antioxidants are lacking in your diet, free radicals can cause the type of cellular damage that results in various cardiovascular threats—excess low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol), development of atherosclerosis (or the buildup of fatty plaque on artery walls), arterial blockages, and reduced cardiovascular blood flow, ischemic conditions, heart attack, and stroke.
2. Reduced risk of infection
Antioxidants are also powerful immune boosters. Studies from the National Institutes of Health indicate that a diet filled with antioxidant rich foods (featuring beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, iron selenium, and copper) boost immune and protect the body from all sorts of nasty bacteria, viruses or parasites.
3. Decrease inflammatory disease
Antioxidants and their ability to fight free radical damage also that are closely linked with fighting inflammatory diseases, namely respiratory diseases (i.e., emphysema), Parkinson’s disease, eczema, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis. Particularly, antioxidants rich in flavonoids (i.e.,
Blueberries, strawberries, onions, broccoli, red cabbage, and (yum) dark chocolate), have proven effective and natural anti-inflammatories.
4. Lower the risk of cancer
Several lab studies conducted by the National Cancer Institute found that diets abundant in antioxidants are able to prevent the free radical cell damage linked to cancer development. The studies note that consuming antioxidant rich foods and taking dietary antioxidant supplements can help lower the risk of developing cervical cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer, as well as lower incidence of overall deaths from these cancers.