Food Sources High in Antioxidants

Blueberries with dew
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Choosing the best food sources of antioxidants can go a long way in enhancing your health and fighting disease. A class of compounds found in a wide range of foods (especially plant-derived foods), antioxidants help protect against the damaging effects of free radicals.

It's thought that increasing your intake of the best food sources of antioxidants can help fend off a host of major health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and some forms of cancer. Some examples of antioxidants are phytochemicals and flavonoids.

What Types of Foods Are the Good Sources of Antioxidants?

Many vegetables, fruits, and other types of foods, including whole grains, are excellent sources of antioxidant compounds. Examples of these are anthocyanins, carotenoids (such as beta-carotene), lutein, lycopene, resveratrol, selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E. When trying to consume a variety of antioxidants, picture eating the rainbow and making sure your plate is colorful.

Furthermore, many whole foods provide a variety of antioxidant compounds, each with its own unique health effects. For example, grapes contain anthocyanins, vitamin C, resveratrol, and selenium, while dark leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and collard greens offer vitamins C and E, lutein, and an antioxidant called kaempferol.

While vegetables and fruits serve as some of the best food sources of antioxidants, you can also fill up on antioxidant compounds by eating legumes and nuts, drinking tea (such as green tea and black tea), and using herbs and spices in your cooking. Snack foods like popcorn and dark chocolate also deliver a number of antioxidants.

Best Food Sources of Antioxidants

For a report published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2004, scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) performed what is considered to be the most comprehensive analysis of the antioxidant content of commonly consumed foods. The USDA scientists ranked these foods according to their total antioxidant capacity, which is a measure of the antioxidants' ability to neutralize free radicals.

In their research on more than 100 foods, the report's authors found the following items to be the best food sources of antioxidants:

Food, Serving Size, Antioxidant Capacity Per Serving

Small red bean (dried), 1/2 cup, 13,727

Wild blueberries, 1 cup, 13,427

Red kidney beans (dried), 1/2 cup, 13,259

Pinto beans, 1/2 cup, 11,864

Blueberries (cultivated), 1 cup, 9,019

Cranberries, 1 cup (whole), 8,983

Artichoke hearts, 1 cup, 7,904

Blackberries, 1 cup, 7,701

Prunes, 1/2 cup, 7,291

Raspberries, 1 cup, 6,058

Strawberries, 1 cup, 5,938

Red delicious apples, 1, 5,900

Granny Smith apples, 1, 5,381

Pecans, 1 ounce, 5,095

Sweet cherries, 1 cup, 4,873

Black plums, 1, 4,844

Russet potatoes, 1 cooked, 4,649

Black beans (dried), 1/2 cup, 4,181

Plums, 1, 4,118

Gala apples, 1, 3,903

Why Should You Get Your Antioxidants From Food?

While many individuals take antioxidant supplements, following a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods is considered the preferred way of boosting your antioxidant levels. In addition to containing a wide array of antioxidant compounds, these foods provide other key components of a healthy diet, such as minerals and dietary fiber.

Although some preliminary studies suggest that antioxidant supplements may help thwart disease development by reducing oxidative stress, more research is needed before such supplements can be recommended for disease prevention.

Another concern about supplements is the safety of use. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Third-party companies such as NSF, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), or Consumer Lab verify the safety of the product and that the ingredients listed are in the product.

Get Your Antioxidants From Food

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that findings from scientific studies involving more than 100,000 people indicate that antioxidant supplements may not reduce the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer.

There's also some concern that taking antioxidants in supplement form may interact with medications. An example is high intakes of vitamin E which can interact with anticoagulants (blood thinners).

How to Boost Your Intake of the Best Food Sources of Antioxidants

To load up on antioxidants, follow a balanced diet that includes plenty of plant-derived foods and limits your intake of processed food items. Aiming for nine servings of vegetables and fruits per day is a great way to increase your intake of the best food sources of antioxidants. If you are thinking of taking an antioxidant supplement, it is best to follow up with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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Article Sources
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  1. Antioxidants: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Updated November 2013

Additional Reading
  • Benzie IF1, Choi SW2. "Antioxidants in food: content, measurement, significance, action, cautions, caveats, and research needs." Adv Food Nutr Res. 2014;71:1-53.
  • Carlsen MH1, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, Bøhn SK, Dragland S, Sampson L, Willey C, Senoo H, Umezono Y, Sanada C, Barikmo I, Berhe N, Willett WC, Phillips KM, Jacobs DR Jr, Blomhoff R. "The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide." Nutr J. 2010 Jan 22;9:3.
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "Antioxidants and Health: An Introduction." NCCIH Pub No.: D483. November 2013.
  • Pandey KB1, Rizvi SI. "Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease." Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2009 Nov-Dec;2(5):270-8.