Top 10 foods to fight free radicals

A table full of fresh and colourful well-cooked foods helps protect the body from the damage of free radicals. Let’s discover how.

Experts often talk about the anti-radical diet, but what are free radicals? They are unstable fragments of molecules naturally created by our body to protect itself against viruses and bacteria or as a result of some metabolic processes. Stress, unhealthy food habits, radiations, excessive sun exposure, pollution, cigarette smoke, drugs or alcohol can form dangerous amounts of free radicals that can damage the DNA and promote some diseases as well as ageing. We asked Nico Valerio, food expert and science writer, to reveal the ten food habits to adopt in order to defend our body against free radicals.


1 Whole cereals

wholemeal bread
The antioxidants contained in whole grains destroy free radicals 50 times more than vitamin C and E alone.


Whole coated grains that are cooked in cold water like rice, flakes or crushed grains and whole flour with which to prepare pizzas, spaghetti, pies, bread and biscuits and taste the flavours of past times.


Finding good wholemeal bread is not easy. The bread you buy at the baker’s is often prepared with 00 flour and a pinch of bran, is tasteless and full of additives, added fats and preservatives. You can find it only at the artisan bakeries. Try to weigh it: it must be heavy and very dark inside. Researchers at Nagasaki University reveal that the antioxidants contained in whole grains, which are rich in vitamin E, B group vitamins, carotenoids, zinc, copper, selenium and other trace elements, destroy free radicals 50 times more than vitamin C and E.


2 Pulses as often as possible, even every day

Pulses are healthy and sustainable ingredients. 2016 was named International year of pulses by the UN


To be consumed with the peel, which is rich in antioxidant polyphenols, saponins, anti-cancer phytates. Those who suffer from intestinal bloating after eating legumes should consider that eating them regularly reduces and then eliminates this problem. They must be well cooked: when you cook them they must always be tender and easily squeezable between your fingers.


3 At least 6 portions of vegetables and fruit every day 

fruits vegetables against free radicals
The vegetables that contain more antioxidants are the green-leaved, coloured or spicy ones.


250 g of vegetables to be cooked, 100 g to be eaten raw, 1 large fruit such as an orange or apple, or 150 g of small fruits. A glass of any fresh fruit juice should be considered as one serving. The vegetables that contain more antioxidants are the green-leaved, coloured or spicy ones. Those that are more effective in tackling free radicals are dark green-leaved and – mostly – spicy vegetables that contain large amounts of sulfur (for example garlic and onion). Bright coloured vegetables including red and yellow peppers, red cabbage, dark orange carrots, yellow squash, bright red tomatoes and beets, are also high in antioxidants. The best fruits to fight free radicals are the ones that are more sour or yellow, red and bluish-black coloured when ripe: oranges, apricots, grapefruit, tangerines, blackberries, blueberries, black grapes, black plums, strawberries, cherries, yellow-fleshed peaches, pineapple, kiwi, persimmons. The peel or skin contains larger amounts of antioxidants than the pulp. It is also advisable to eat the peel of citrus fruits (only if organic), which is rich in antioxidants.


4 Raw vegetable oil

extra virgin olive oil antioxidant
Extra virgin olive oil has a high antioxidant power


Extra virgin olive oil and cold-pressed soy oil are the most suitable to replace animal fats. A study shows that olive oil loses more antioxidants (sterols and polyphenols) in clear glass bottles. It would be ideal to put it in a dark glass bottle. Oil seeds (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, sesame, sunflower) are also recommendable provided that they’re fresh as well as wheat germ.


5 Adequate cooking

steamed asparagus
Steaming preserves the food’s beneficial substances


Steam as briefly as possible so that the vitamin C, antioxidants and glucosinolates remain almost intact. Consume a lot of raw or seared foods at every meal. Never leave food at room temperature, put it in the refrigerator. Avoid excessive food exposure to air and light. The vegetables should be first washed and then cut or sliced. Do not fry the food, especially meat and fish. Avoid burning or browning roasted foods. Season cereals (for example pasta) with raw or seared vegetables. The oil should be added raw to the dishes.


6 Fish is better than meat

pasta sardines
Freshwater fish is rich in omega3 fatty acids.


Coldwater fish (mackerel, sardine, herring, tuna, trout, salmon, cod, anchovies etc.) and its liver that is rich in the EPA and DHA omega3 essential fatty acids are recommendable, as well as cod liver oil to season your dishes.


7 Red wine is better than white (just a glass at every meal)

red wine
A glass of wine at every meal provides us with large amounts of antioxidants


Red wine has more than double the antioxidant power of white wine. Then we suggest that you drink abundant water during the day.


8 Tea and coffee (if you don’t suffer from heart diseases)

Tè, caffè e cacao sono dotati di antiossidanti


Green tea is more effective than black tea. But coffee and chocolate are antioxidant foods as well.


9 Spices and herbs

spices herbs antioxidant
Adding spices to our dishes increases their antioxidant power


Mostly ginger, turmeric, thyme, sage, rosemary and oregano.


10 Natural fruit or vegetable juices

natural juices antioxidants
Home-made juices help fight free radicals


As a snack in the morning or afternoon, a natural fruit and/or vegetable juice increases the antioxidant intake. It is important to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables of all colours.

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