How to Fight Oxidative Stress with Plant Foods

Woman dealing with stressful news

Stress is abundant and seems to be on the rise. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 75 percent of doctor visits are due to stress.

One type of stress to be aware of is oxidative stress, which occurs when free radicals overwhelm your body’s ability to regulate them. For proper physiological function, it’s necessary to have a balance between free radicals and antioxidants.

Free radicals are natural byproducts of ongoing biochemical reactions within the body and external factors outside the body. Internally, they can result from ordinary metabolic processes and immune system responses.

Externally, free radicals can result from various sources, including:

  • Pollution
  • Natural and artificial radiation
  • Food
  • Water
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Lack of sleep
  • Alcohol

The Dangers of Oxidative Stress

According to the Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education at Stanford, “free radicals can cause damage to parts of cells such as proteins, DNA, and cell membranes by stealing their electrons through a process called oxidation.” When this process happens, it causes cells to lose their ability to function normally and possibly die.

Oxidative stress can contribute to conditions such as:

  • Cancer
  • Neurological disorders
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Hypertension
  • Ischemia/perfusion
  • Diabetes
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Asthma

Luckily, there are plant foods that can help create a defense system of antioxidants to fight oxidative stress. Plants are full of antioxidants that house helpful compounds such as vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and polyphenols that can help protect your body from free radical damage by neutralizing them.

Most vegetables have hundreds—if not thousands—of compounds, each impacting your health and well-being.

Here are three types of plant foods that help prevent oxidative stress and inflammation.

1. Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are loaded with polyphenols, which help give them their color and protect them from damage by insects and the sun. When ingested, polyphenols also act as antioxidants in your body to fight free radicals and prevent damage to cells.

Fruits that contain high levels of polyphenols include:

  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Berries

According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidants and may improve cell survival, induce apoptosis, and prevent tumor growth.”

2. Herbs and Spices

Various herbs and spices have compounds called terpenoids, which possess strong plant antioxidant activity and may boost the body’s defenses against oxidative stress.

Herbs and spices that contain high levels of antioxidants include:

  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Ginger
  • Thyme
  • Turmeric
  • Oregano

3. Legumes and Beans

Legumes and beans also help the body fight oxidative stress, mainly through phenolic compounds.

Legumes and beans with the highest levels of antioxidants include:

  • Black beans (contain the highest level due to amount of anthocyanins, which give their dark hue)
  • Dried beans
  • Peas
  • Lentils

Legumes and beans are also good sources of:

  • Protein
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Folic acid and B vitamins

Plant foods can be a powerful channel for reducing oxidative stress, but they are only a piece of the stress management puzzle. In addition to diet and nutrition, try incorporating these activities into your lifestyle to ease stress and improve overall well-being:

  • Moving your body
  • Deep breathing
  • Resting and relaxing
  • Meditating and praying
  • Surrounding yourself with a supportive community
  • Taking time to enjoy yourself

Your unique combination of healthy eating and self-care practices can help you better navigate the demands of daily life and the stresses that come with it.     

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.

 

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About the Author

Fran Benedict

Health and Nutrition Counselor
Fran Benedict is a certified health and nutrition counselor and the founder of SimplyMindful.com . She has been on a path of health promotion and behavior for more than 15 years and loves discovering new ways to bring attention and intention into everyday life. She believes in the extraordinary power of the mind to create a quality of life every person deserves, with an emphasis on the relation to oneself as the foundation for everything else. A member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners, Fran enjoys supporting a range of health-promotion initiatives from multi-week wellness programs in the corporate setting, to nutritional...Read more