Source: Pacific Prime Insurance

We've often been advised to eat the right foods and consume essential nutrients to maintain optimal health and wellness, but why do our bodies need vitamins and minerals to maintain good health?

When our body uses oxygen, chemical compounds such as free radicals are produced, which can cause damage to cells and lead to serious, long-term health problems. These free radicals are helped along by environmental factors, such as pollution and exposure to the sun, and in the same way that rust can appear on surfaces through the process of oxidation, free radicals can cause damage to cells within the body.

Researchers suggest there's a link between the damage caused by free radicals and premature aging, as well as illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But the good news is, studies have shown that consuming antioxidants available in food has a protective effect on the body, assisting the immune system and lowering the risk of developing disease. Fortunately, many foods contain high concentrations of body-healing substances that have the capacity to neutralize free radicals.

The following foods are bursting with goodness and are great sources of the vitamins and minerals we need to maintain a healthy body. Every bite will fortify the body with all-natural preventive medicine and increase the amount of disease-fighting compounds floating in the bloodstream.

1. Red beans

The humble red bean has been rated the top antioxidant-rich food in many a study. Similar in shape and color to the kidney bean, this smaller cousin provides a potent nutritional boost well beyond its size. It offers a remarkable package of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, including protein, folic acid and iron. Scientists suggest that the antioxidants found in small red beans may help manage diabetes and reduce the risk of stroke as well as offer some protection against heart disease and some types of cancers.

2. Blueberries

These tiny fruits are bursting with antioxidants and offer a diverse profile of micronutrients. They're high in fiber and contain the healthy plant chemical anthocyanin and various key phytochemicals, which provide some protection against heart disease and reduce the risks of cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Consuming half a cup of blueberries can double our normal daily intake of antioxidants. The vitamins and minerals found in these blue orbs can strengthen the immune system and may also have a positive effect on age-related health conditions, high cholesterol and blood glucose levels, as well as improve night vision.

3. Kidney beans

Supercharged with anti-oxidants and crammed full of folate and fiber, kidney beans have a high capacity for absorbing free radicals. Deep red in color and exceptionally rich in flavonoids, these little beauties show superior free radical scavenging activity, help protect the skin and eliminate toxic substances from the body, have anti-aging properties and have also been found to contribute to cardiovascular health.

4. Artichokes

Despite the coy exterior, artichokes has been proven in multiple studies to provide an antioxidant punch. This demure vegetable is among the top antioxidant-rich foods, with the leaves producing high concentrations of damage-preventing phytonutrients which support healthy liver function and may increase the regeneration of liver cells. Artichokes are also high in potassium, vitamin C and folic acid, are known to improve digestion, help control blood sugar levels, and are linked to a reduction in birth defects and improvement in heart health.

5. Broccoli

This green bunch of goodness takes the gold medal in the veggie category for nutritional muscle, as it contains more vitamin C than an orange and is one of the best sources of lutein, a strong antioxidant that aids vision. Broccoli is brimming with sulforaphane, another disease-fighting antioxidant that exhibits anti-cancer and anti-microbial properties. This esteemed veggie also contains more calcium than a glass of milk and is loaded with beta-carotene, a flavonoid compound important for a healthy body.

6. Tomatoes

Antioxidant packed tomatoes are by far, the richest source of lycopene, which studies have shown to be even more powerful in fighting disease than vitamin E and beta-carotene. The damage-preventing substances in most foods decrease during cooking, but the tomato is a notable exception with its antioxidant value actually enhancing.