For Foods High in Antioxidants, Amla is King
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Most people know that antioxidants are a key part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle. After all, foods that are high in antioxidants provide a number of health benefits, including improved immunity, healthier skin, and more energy!
But what exactly do these helpful compounds do? And what's the best way to add them to your diet?
Here's the lowdown on what antioxidants do for your body, why they're important for you to include in your diet, and how one berry you might have never heard of is the king of them all…
Table of Contents
Antioxidants: What Are They?
On a chemical level, antioxidants are any compounds that slow or stop the oxidation process. Oxidation is a natural chemical reaction in which high-energy compounds combine with another element to form an oxidized product, such as iron rusting into a brown substance we know as "rust".
Now, while the cells in your body don't rust, they do face the same oxidation process. And when that happens, the cell's structure and function start to deteriorate - which can lead to a number of conditions like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes!
The chemical reaction is also what causes damage in your body after smoking cigarettes or too much alcohol consumption; it even has an impact on how you age as well.
Hence why antioxidants are important.
Some Antioxidants You Might Recognize
There are a number of different vitamins and minerals that you might recognize that have antioxidant properties. These include:
- Vitamin A
- Beta Carotene (a form of vitamin A)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
And there are also a number of different phytochemicals (plant-based compounds) that work as antioxidants, such as:
- Anthocyanins (found in blueberries and grapes)
- Catechins (found in green tea)
- Quercetin (found in apples, onions, and citrus fruits)
And many others!
Are Antioxidants Only in Fruit?
Antioxidants are abundant throughout nature and they can be found naturally occurring in things like plants, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and some animal products.
Though there are many different foods that have antioxidants in them, not all antioxidant foods are created equal. This is why scientists have created a scale called the ORAC scale, which measures the strength of the antioxidants in one 100g serving.
We'll explain the relative ORAC value of some well-known antioxidant foods below.
Why Do We Need to Fight Oxidation?
Free Radicals in Your Body
As we mentioned above, your body is not in danger of rusting, but it can suffer damage through oxidation.
This most often happens as a result of free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells.
Free radicals can be generated as a side effect of a number of different things, including normal bodily processes like breathing, exercising, and eating.
In addition to the free radicals that are produced in your body's natural functioning, you might also experience them through external sources such as pollution or smoking cigarettes.
Free Radicals Cause Damage When They Stick Around for Too Long
The problem with these unstable molecules is that once they enter your body, they can do a lot of damage.
Free radicals in the body disrupt cells and their DNA structure, which causes those cells to die - leading to diseases like cancer or diabetes. They also lead to inflammation in the body, which is another risk factor for chronic disease.
The more free radicals that are produced by external sources, the higher your risk of chronic disease.
This process is called oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of oxidants and antioxidants in the body, and it can have a number of side effects on you.
As we mentioned, oxidative stress can cause an imbalance in your cell structure and DNA. When this happens, it will interfere with the function of those cells and eventually lead to a number of chronic diseases like cancer or diabetes.
In addition, because free radicals are unstable molecules that contain oxygen atoms (hence where they get their name) when they react with other healthy cells, they will create more of these unstable molecules.
This is called a "cascade effect", and it can chain together to lead to cellular damage as well as chronic diseases.
Oxidative stress has been tied to a wide variety of conditions, including premature aging, skin and hair damage, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer's.
The Silver Lining
Fortunately, if you have enough antioxidant-rich foods in your diet, you can help to prevent oxidative stress and its effects.
By consuming antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and other healthy whole foods in moderation with a balanced lifestyle that includes regular exercise and sleep then you are doing all the things necessary to protect your body against oxidation.
The Health Benefits of Having Sufficient Antioxidants
There are also a number of different health benefits associated with having sufficient antioxidants, whether that's from eating antioxidant-rich foods or antioxidant supplements
Antioxidants are vital to immune function because free radical molecules can threaten the cells that are responsible for fighting infection.
Research shows that antioxidant-rich substances like vitamin C and vitamin E can help heal wounds more quickly, which is important when you have an injury or a wound. They also promote skin repair because they keep your connective tissue healthy.
Promoting Healthy/Slowed Aging
As we mentioned, free radicals are linked to premature aging and skin damage, but there's also evidence that suggests they might be responsible for other aspects of the process as well.
Studies have shown that antioxidants can slow down or even reverse some signs of aging, which is good news for anyone who wants to look youthful again!
Reduced Risk for Cardiovascular Disease
Research also shows that having enough antioxidants significantly helps with the risk of heart disease.
This is because a number of different components in your heart, including the walls and cardiac muscles, have at least some level of oxidative damage.
When there are high levels of harmful free radicals in your body, this can lead to inflammation which will then affect these tissues negatively - leading to problems like plaque buildup or blood clots.
But antioxidants help prevent this from happening.
Another benefit of antioxidants is that they can lead to lower blood pressure.
Again, it's because free radicals are unstable molecules with oxygen atoms and when they react with the cells in your heart or brain tissue, this will create more harmful free radicals - leading to inflammation and eventually plaque buildup or clotting.
More antioxidants (either from fruit and vegetable intake or antioxidant supplements) lead to less inflammation and buildup, and in turn, lower blood pressure.
Reduced Cancer Risk
Initial evidence suggests that antioxidants might help with cancer prevention.
A number of studies have found that people who eat antioxidant-rich diets are less likely to develop certain types of cancer. This is true because sometimes those free radicals, rather than just damaging a cell or destroying it, can cause it to become cancerous.
This is not to say that eating antioxidants or taking antioxidant supplements cure cancer, but they can be one part of a lifelong cancer prevention strategy, and help reduce the chance of it occurring.
Better Hair and Skin Health
Skin health is another area where antioxidants are important.
We mentioned that they can help heal wounds and promote skin repair, but there's also evidence to suggest that oxidative stress is directly related to an increased risk for hair loss and visible skin aging.
Less oxidative stress as a result of naturally occurring antioxidants or antioxidant supplements, and your looks will thank you!
The ORAC Scale and Common Foods High in Antioxidants
The ORAC scale, as we mentioned above, is a great way to measure the level of antioxidants in a particular food, and focuses on the relative antioxidant "power" of 100g of a respective food.
At the lowest end of the scale are processed foods like chips, candies, and cookies, and other foods that are mostly artificial - all of which have a negligible antioxidant value.
Basic Greens, Fruits, and Vegetables
Almost all greens and vegetables have some moderate level of antioxidants, usually in the range of 1-3000 on the ORAC scale. This category comprises almost all fruits and vegetables that are not specifically notable for their ORAC value.
Antioxidant-Rich Fruits and Vegetables (Cabbage, Broccoli, and Many More)
However, there are also many vegetables and plant foods, that are notable for being rich in antioxidants, and have much higher antioxidant values. These include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, rutabaga, Brussels sprouts, kale, tomatoes, peppers, and more.
Most antioxidant-rich foods tend to range from 3,000-10,000 on the ORAC scale.
Surprise Antioxidant -- Dark Chocolate
Interestingly enough, the research shows that dark chocolate is actually a powerful antioxidant thanks to its cocoa content.
The cocoa beans are ground into a paste before they're mixed with sugar and other ingredients, which turns the mixture into a sweet candy that can be eaten by humans - but in its original form, it's actually loaded with antioxidants!
We don't recommend using dark chocolate as your sole source of antioxidants, but cocoa tops out at 21,000 -- a potent antioxidant.
The Wide World of Berries
Many people seek out berries as one of their main sources of antioxidants, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better category of foods for a general dose of antioxidants.
However, not all berries are created equal. For example, blueberries and black raspberries rest in the 3000-10,000 range, while goji berries top out at close to 25,000.
Goji berries are still not the most powerful berry on the planet though, as goji berries are dwarfed by acai berries (at an ORAC of almost 100,000), and by an even more powerful berry that we'll discuss later...
Strong Aromatic Spices
But before we get to the king of antioxidants, the upper echelon of antioxidants is dominated by strong aromatic spices like cloves, cinnamon, and turmeric.
Each one reaches comfortably higher than 100,000 on the ORAC scale, with some reaching as high as 150,000+!
Excellent addition to the list. But still not king.
Amla: The King of Them All
That title goes to amla, the Indian Gooseberry.
Amla tops out at an ORAC of 250,000+ - the most powerful antioxidant on the planet.
It's no wonder that it was used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine to treat all kinds of ailments and diseases.
And here's the interesting part about this folk cure: it actually works! Modern science has found that Amla is linked to protection against aging and diabetes, against heart disease and cancer, and improves your mental function, works for weight loss, and even promotes hair growth!
Part of this is due to amla's incredibly potent antioxidant value, of course, but there are a number of other reasons why Amla is good for your health.
Amla's Other Medicinal Nutrients
Amla is also notable because it's the second most dense source of vitamin C on the planet, only topped by the vitamin C king -- the Barbados cherry. That's right, amla has dozens of times more vitamin C content than a regular orange!
Vitamin C is notable for its incredible health benefits for your immune system, but it also helps you maintain healthy skin and hair, protects against eye disease, and is part of what makes an amla berry such a potent anti-aging agent.
Another key medicinal chemical of amla is gallic acid. Gallic acid is a lesser-known, but potent antioxidant that is notable for protecting against cardiovascular disease.
Gallic acid is also shown to have a protective effect on the liver - which means that with amla's high gallic content, you're getting double-duty as an antioxidant!
Ellagic acid is another lesser-known compound, but it can have huge health benefits.
This antioxidant is notable for its ability to protect against diabetes and cardiovascular disease like gallic acid does, and also helps with weight loss by suppressing your appetite. This helpful compound has even been shown to reduce symptoms associated with gout and arthritis!
Moving on through amla's impressive repertoire, we get to phyllembein, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
Phyllembein isn't the only anti-inflammatory agent in amla, but it's notable as one of the most potent.
Quercetin is another compound of amla that has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, where quercetin truly shines is in its powerful ability to regulate blood sugar.
This is huge for people with diabetes, and means it can help you maintain a healthy weight as well!
And Many More
Perhaps the most interesting part about amla is that we're still discovering new active compounds within this superfood, each of which may have potent medicinal effects!
Stay tuned for more research as it comes out.
And Our Favorite Way to Enjoy it?
There are a number of different ways to enjoy amla, ranging from fresh amla to amla powder to amla tea, pickled amla, amla chutneys, amla rice, and on and on and on.
But when it comes to our favorite, it's hard to beat Amla Green. Amla Green starts with 20x concentrated, organic amla powder, and then mixes in a delicious blend of green tea, hibiscus, or elderberry (returning soon!) -- each of which has their own incredible health benefits.
Now, you may ask: why hasn't amla made the jump to the US before? If it's so powerful, why haven't I heard about it?
Well, the answer is for two reasons. First, it's very hard to get organic amla in the states. And second, many people don't enjoy amla in its basic form.
That's why we've added a complementary cast of tasty, proven flavors that are huge crowd-pleasers.
And we want to help you try it too! Any time you try your first batch of Amla Green, we'll include our satisfaction guarantee. If you don't like it, we'll send you your money back, no questions asked.
But we think once you get a taste of Amla Green, and its incredible health benefits, you'll be hooked just like us!
Amla Green has strict guidelines for scientific references in our articles, and we rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, governmental organizations, and reputable medical organizations. We do our best to avoid using non evidence-based references in all articles. The references in this article are listed below.
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Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by
Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Cyrus Khambatta, PhD, is a cofounder of Mastering Diabetes and Amla Green is an internationally recognized nutrition and fitness coach who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. Using an evidence-based approach to nutrition and fitness, he first reduced his own insulin usage by more than 40%, and has educated thousands of people with all forms of diabetes how to reverse insulin resistance using food as medicine. Cyrus earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2003, then earned a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2012. He is the co-host of the annual Mastering Diabetes Online Summit, a featured speaker at the Plant-Based Nutrition and Healthcare Conference (PBNHC), the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) Conference, Plant Stock, and has been featured on Forks Over Knives, NPR, PBS, KQED, Fast Company, and is the author of the upcoming book Mastering Diabetes.
- Cyrus Khambatta