Antioxidant-Packed Workout Fuel


When done right, snacking can be a key component to a healthy lifestyle. The secret is to pack as much nutrients into a snack as possible. One on the best ways to make your noshing count is to raise the level of antioxidants in your snacks.

Antioxidants have become a big fad in recent years (even 7Up now boasts it has antioxidants), but why do we really need them?

Antioxidants boost the body’s ability to repair, regenerate and protect itself from damage. When you cut open an apple, the flesh will become brown rather quickly due to the oxidation process and free radical formation. However, if you rub lemon juice (containing vitamin C) on the apple, the apple will not brown as quickly. The same is true in the body. While there is more than one type of antioxidant, the majority can be found in fruits and vegetables with high levels of vitamin C. Free radicals are molecules that come from environmental pollutants, UV rays and even from the foods that we digest. Free radicals destroy tissue at the cellular level and are also precursors to cancer and coronary artery disease. Antioxidants work in the body by neutralizing and eliminating free radicals. So, where can we find these magical nutrients?

To satisfy a salty or crunchy craving, try popcorn. Polyphenols are antioxidant plant chemicals that may protect the body from cell and tissue damage linked to heart disease and certain cancers. Research has found that among snack food, popcorn has the highest polyphenol levels. The best and freshest idea is to pop your own and add spices or nuts to kick it up.

Another snacktime staple is also healthier than you may have thought. A study published in the journal, Food Chemistry, discovered that the longer peanuts are roasted, the higher their antioxidant levels will be. The extra-long roasting preserves more manganese (to protect bones) and vitamin E (to protect red blood cells) than lightly or non-roasted nuts. Peanuts are rich in protein, fiber and healthy unsaturated fats to help keep you full longer.

Tart cherries have been shown to help relieve soreness, but they may be good for your heart as well. In a study in the Journal of Nutrition, participants consumed about eight ounces of tart cherry juice or a placebo twice a day for two weeks. Researchers found that the juice reduced oxidative damage, which can contribute to heart disease. The juice’s protective qualities come from its high level of antioxidants. Though juice lacks the fiber found in whole fruits, it is still an excellent source of carbohydrates making it great for recovery after a hard workout. Other fruits like dates, cranberries and red grapes are also among the leading sources of antioxidants

It has been years since the health benefits of dark chocolate were revealed to a very grateful public. But what makes it so good as opposed to, say, milk chocolate? The higher the percentage of cacao in your bar, the higher the amount of antioxidants. Avoid alkali, or Dutch-processed, as it destroys nutrients. Avoid chocolate that lists oils like hydrogenated or vegetable since they have a lower quality.

Coffee is not currently considered a fitness beverage, but the antioxidant levels in your morning cup of java may change that. Coffee not only helps clear the mind and increases energy levels, but, according to one study, it may also provide more healthful antioxidants than any other food or beverage in the American diet. Of course, too much coffee can make people jittery and even raise cholesterol levels, so food experts stress moderation.

As a bonus, foods high in antioxidants typically offer many other health benefits such as being high in fiber, protein, and other vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. While snacking in moderation is always encouraged, adding in some of these healthy alternatives will definitely save some guilt.

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