Are you looking for the best antioxidant foods? Learn more about a diet rich in vitamins A, C and E, selenium and lycopene. Our new blog entry shows you how to utilize these powerhouses to keep your family healthy.
Best Food With Antioxidants
Many people believe that they need to take pricey dietary supplements to get all the vitamins and minerals they need. But nutrients work best in your body when you get them the natural way: in the amounts found in foods and balanced with other nutrients.
A high dose of one vitamin or mineral from a supplement can interfere with how your body absorbs or uses another important vitamin or mineral.
For example, high-dose iron supplements can cause your body to not absorb as much zinc as you may need. And not getting enough zinc can cause problems with some key functions of the immune system. On the other hand, too much zinc can interfere with copper absorption.
Another problem is that supplements can interact or interfere with medications such as antibiotics and diuretics.
Nutrient-dense super foods offer a better bang for your buck. Most of our top 10 are healthy foods that also have hidden benefits. Eat them every day to boost your intake of vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients that benefit the body and the immune system.
Super Food 1: Purple, Red, and Blue Grapes
Grapes, especially dark-colored ones, are loaded with phytochemicals, antioxidants that may help protect against cancer and heart disease. Two of those phytochemicals, anthocyanin and proanthocyanidin, may be especially good for your immune system. Grapes also contain vitamin C and selenium.
Super Food 2: Blueberries
Recent animal studies suggest that blueberries may help protect cells from damage and lower inflammation. Blueberries contain many of the vitamins and minerals known to strengthen the immune system, along with key phytochemicals that may help protect against cancer and heart disease.
Super Food 3: Red Berries
Berries, especially raspberries and strawberries, contain ellagic acid, another phytochemical that may help protect against cancer-causing agents in the diet and the environment.
Super Food 4: Nuts
Nuts are one of the most balanced foods on the planet. They offer a good dose of “healthy” fats along with a smaller amount of protein and carbohydrate. Each type of nut offers a unique profile of minerals, phytochemicals, and types of fat. Walnuts are the highest in plant omega-3s, for example, while Brazil nuts are best for selenium.
Most nuts also contain phytochemicals such as resveratrol and plant sterols, which help lower cholesterol.
Super Food 5: Dark Green Veggies
Popeye had a point: It’s tough to compete with the nutritional muscle of broccoli and spinach. Kale and collard greens are also members of the esteemed dark green vegetable group.
These super veggies are high in nutrients that help fight disease, including vitamins C, E, and A, and calcium. They’re also loaded with magnesium and potassium.
Need another reason to go green? These veggies are brimming with antioxidant phytochemicals such as kaempferol, which may help dilate blood vessels and may have cancer-fighting properties. Leeks, lettuce, and kale provide lutein and quercetin, both strong antioxidants.
Super Food 6: Sweet Potatoes and Orange Vegetables
Move over, russet potatoes. There’s a new tuber in town. All across America, sweet potatoes are creeping onto menus. Sweet potato fries are nudging traditional fries off restaurant plates.
Both white and sweet potatoes provide important nutrients such as vitamins C and B6, potassium, and fiber. But sweet potatoes have more of these nutrients. They also bring to the table key nutrients such as calcium and whopping amounts of vitamin A.
Other orange vegetables are nutrient-rich and packed with phytochemicals as well. Carrots are famously high in vitamin A, while butternut and acorn squash are tops in vitamins A and C.
Super Foods for Optimal Health
Three of the major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues.
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon
Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers
Vitamin E: broccoli (boiled), avocado, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds
These foods are also rich in antioxidants:
- Red grapes
- Alfalfa sprouts
10 High-Antioxidant Foods That Prove Food Is Medicine
To help keep your waistline slim, your heart happy, and your brain sharp, reach for these highly nutritious foods.
Consider nutrient-rich foods for your arsenal against chronic disease.
Stephen Swintek/Getty Images
Have you ever wondered what makes a blueberry blue? Well, technically blueberries are purple, but that rich color you see comes from anthocyanin pigments, which are found naturally in foods like blueberries.
All foods contain natural pigments that gives them a unique color, according to a study published in February 2016 in Current Opinion in Food Science. Beta-carotene makes carrots orange, chlorophyll gives vegetables such as kale and collard greens their verdant color — you get the idea. These pigments also act as antioxidants, which are compounds that inhibit molecules from a process called oxidation, notes the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. When molecules are in oxidative stress, toxic by-products known as free radicals form, which can cause damage to the cells in your body, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Antioxidants are important because they help stabilize cells and protect them from oxidative stress, which can lead to things like cancer, heart disease, and eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, noted a study published in December 2016 in the Journal of Nutritional Science. Per an earlier article published in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, scientists have theorized that antioxidants help promote longevity based on the free radical theory of aging. But more recent research, such as a study published in February 2014 in Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, suggests the true root of aging is much more complex.
“In general, antioxidants help prevent or slow damage to our cells,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, who is based in Atlanta. “Vitamin C in particular may help prevent or delay certain cancers and promote healthy aging.”
Most natural foods contain at least some antioxidants, but Taylor Wolfram, RDN, who has a private practice in Chicago, says fruit and vegetables are the best source of antioxidants. While you can get them in supplements, Wolfram recommends getting antioxidants from plant-based sources as opposed to ones synthesized in a lab.
“The foundation of good nutrition — fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans — hasn’t changed,” she says. “If you’re eating animal protein, stick to seafood options and stay away from processed meats.”
There are so many antioxidant-rich foods out there, but here are 10 reliable sources. All recommended daily values (DV) are found in the NIH Dietary Supplement Label Database.
Blueberries, Which May Help Fend Off Heart Disease
Blueberries may be small, but they pack a nutritious punch. Full of vitamins and minerals, blueberries are also rich in anthocyanins, which, we mentioned, act as powerful antioxidants.
Blueberries are labeled a superfood for a reason, and boast a number of health benefits that may include improving brain function, maintaining strong bones, and lowering risk for heart disease. A study published in May 2019 in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating 1 cup of blueberries daily for six months reduced the risk of heart disease by 12 to 15 percent. Note that the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council funded this study, so the results may be skewed in their favor.
Here are the nutrition facts for 1 cup (148 g) of blueberries, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):
Protein 1.1 grams (g)
Calcium 9mg, or 1 percent of the DV
Iron 0.4mg, or 3 percent of the DV
Magnesium 9mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Phosphorus 18mg, or 1 percent of the DV
Potassium 114mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Vitamin C 14mg, or 16 percent of the DV
Folate 9mcg, or 2 percent of the DV
Vitamin A 80 IU, or 2 percent of the DV
Vitamin K 29mcg, or 24 percent of the DV
Broccoli, Which May Play a Role in Fighting Cancer
Like other dark, leafy vegetables, broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse. Broccoli is rich in phenolics, a type of chemical produced by plants to help protect them against oxidative stress, according to a study published in March 2015 in the journal Preventive Nutrition and Food Science. Phenolics are important for human health, too. Because these compounds are high in both antioxidants and anti-cancer properties, they may protect against disease, inflammation, and allergies, noted a study published in October 2014 in the International Journal of Chemical Engineering and Applications.
Here are the nutrition facts for 1 cup (91 g) of chopped broccoli, per the USDA:
Calcium 43mg, or 3 percent of the DV
Iron 1mg, or 4 percent of the DV
Magnesium 19mg, or 5 percent of the DV
Phosphorus 60mg, 5 percent of the DV
Potassium 288mg, 6 percent of the DV
Vitamin C 81mg, or 90 percent of the DV
Folate 57mcg, or 14 percent of the DV
Vitamin A 567 IU, or 11 percent of the DV
Vitamin K 93mcg, or 77 percent of the DV
Walnuts, Which May Help Slim Your Waistline
Rich in fiber, protein, and unsaturated fats, nuts make a great snack food. But if you had to dub one nut the healthiest (at least in terms of how much bang you get for your buck, nutrition-wise), it would be the walnut. Used in traditional Chinese medicine for brain health (walnuts have an uncanny resemblance to the human brain), walnuts help keep brain cells healthy and may play a role in improving memory, according to a study published in June 2016 in the journal Natural Product Communications.
Like all raw, unsalted nuts, walnuts are heart-healthy thanks to their polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, notes Harvard Health Publishing. A review published in December 2017 in Nutrients cites research that even suggests eating this Mediterranean diet staple in moderation may help you blast belly fat, thereby reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
But what makes walnuts really shine is their high polyphenol content. These compounds work with antioxidants to prevent oxidative stress, and may help with inflammation, weight control, and the prevention of diseases such as cancer, noted a study published in November 2017 in the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
Here are the nutrition facts for ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts, per the USDA:
Calcium 20mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Iron 1mg, or 4 percent of the DV
Spinach, Which May Improve Your Eyesight
A relative of the beetroot, spinach is a low-calorie veggie loaded with nutrients that may promote bone, eye, and hair health. In particular, there’s evidence linking lutein — a carotenoid found in spinach that also gives carrots their orange hue — to promoting eye health and preventing age-related macular degeneration, according to a study published in September 2018 in the journal Nutrients. Because lutein also functions as an antioxidant, spinach may also improve heart health and decrease the risk of cancer, the study found.
Here are the nutrition facts for 1 cup (30 g) of spinach, per the USDA:
Calcium 30mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Iron 0.8mg, or 5 percent of the DV
Magnesium 24mg, or 6 percent of the DV
Phosphorus 15mg, or 13 percent of the DV
Potassium 167mg, or 4 percent of the DV
Vitamin C 8mg, or 9 percent of the DV
Folate 58mcg, or 15 percent of the DV
Vitamin A 2813 IU, or 56 percent of the DV
Vitamin K 145mcg, or 121 percent of the DV
Potatoes, Which May Protect Your Brain and Lower Blood Pressure
Potatoes get a bad rap because they’re high in carbs, but these tuberous vegetables are actually chock-full of vitamins and minerals. (And sorry: While delicious, potato spinoffs — we’re looking at you, potato chips and french fries — don’t count.) To reap the health benefits, aim for more colorful spuds, like sweet potatoes or purple potatoes; just like any other fruit and veggie as noted earlier, a more colorful potato means a higher concentration of antioxidants. Studies, like one published in April 2016 in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, have shown the antioxidants in potatoes may help lower blood pressure, the risk of heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Here are the nutritional facts for 1 medium (213 g) russet potato (with skin), per the USDA:
Calcium 28mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Iron 2mg, or 10 percent of the DV
Magnesium 49mg, or 12 percent of the DV
Phosphorus 117mg, or 9 percent of the DV
Potassium 888mg, or 19 percent of the DV
Zinc 1mg, or 6 percent of the DV
Vitamin C 12mg, or 13 percent of the DV
Niacin 2mg, or 14 percent of the DV
Folate 30mcg, or 8 percent of the DV
Vitamin K 4mcg, or 3 percent of the DV
Green Tea, Which May Offer Protection From Infection
Walk into almost any coffee shop and you’ll likely see some sort of featured green tea drink. (And if the shop doesn’t, they probably have some pretty disappointed customers.) Green tea’s explosion in popularity is due in part to its many touted health benefits, with research showing it to have anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimicrobial properties, noted a study published in July 2018 in the journal BioMed Research International. What sets green tea apart from other teas is the high number of catechins, a type of phytochemical that acts as a powerful antioxidant. These catechins are known to be antimicrobial agents, and research, including the aforementioned study, has shown they have the ability to potentially help treat and prevent infectious diseases.
Here are the nutrition facts for 1 cup of brewed green tea (245 g), per the USDA:
Riboflavin 0.1mg, or 11 percent of the DV
Strawberries, Which Are a Fruit That May Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Sweet and sumptuous, strawberries are a crown jewel of the berry world. Like blueberries, strawberries get their vivid red color from anthocyanins, granting them superfood status. Studies have shown strawberries may reduce inflammation and decrease blood pressure, which in turn could help prevent heart disease, according to a review published in July 2019 in the journal Nutrients.
The polyphenols (the same compound found in cranberries and spinach) in strawberries may also improve insulin sensitivity in overweight people without diabetes, which suggests this type of nature’s candy may help stave off type 2 diabetes, noted a study published in February 2017 in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Here are the nutritional facts for 1 cup (152 g) of strawberry halves, per the USDA:
Calcium 24mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Iron 1mg, or 3 percent of the DV
Magnesium 20mg, or 5 percent of the DV
Phosphorus 36mg, or 3 percent of the DV
Potassium 233mg, or 5 percent of the DV
Zinc 0.2mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Vitamin C 89mg, or 99 percent of the DV
Niacin 0.6mg, or 4 percent of the DV
Vitamin E 0.4mg, or 3 percent of the DV
Folate 36mcg, or 9 percent of the DV
Vitamin K 3mcg, or 3 percent of the DV
Beans, Which Offer a Healthy Source of Plant-Based Protein
There are hundreds of edible bean types out there, but because most common beans — like navy beans, black beans, and kidney beans — are nutritionally similar, we’ll look at beans as a whole. Full of fiber, phytochemicals, and protein, there’s a reason that beans are a staple in plant-based diets, such as vegetarian and vegan diets. In fact, beans have almost the same amount of protein found in meat according to a study published in November 2017 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
While beans have a reputation of causing digestive discomfort in some people, that usually subsides with regular consumption — and the numerous health benefits from these high nutrient nuggets also make up for it.
Here are the nutritional facts for 1 cup (266 g) of canned red kidney beans, drained and rinsed, per the USDA:
Calcium 92mg, or 7 percent of the DV
Iron 2mg, or 11 percent of the DV
Magnesium 46mg, or 11 percent of the DV
Phosphorus 186mg, or 15 percent of the DV
Potassium 395mg, or 8 percent of the DV
Zinc 1mg, or 9 percent of the DV
Thiamin 0.1mg, or 8 percent of the DV
Niacin 1mg, or 8 percent of the DV
Folate 36mcg, or 9 percent of the DV
Oats, Which May Help You Lose Weight and Boost Heart Health
This might as well be the Year of the Oat, as we’ve seen a resurgence of the cereal grain in the form of milk, flour, granola, beauty products, and even dog treats. Whole oats are hives of antioxidant activity, which may help reduce chronic inflammation linked to heart disease and diabetes, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Oats are also a good food for those trying to lose weight. The high levels of soluble fiber in oats allows them to readily absorb water, which helps slow digestion and makes you feel more full, notes Harvard.
Here are the nutritional facts for 100 g of steel cut oatmeal (about ⅔ cup cooked), per the USDA:
Calcium 35mg, or 3 percent of the DV
Iron 1mg, or 6 percent of the DV
Dark Chocolate (With At Least 70 Percent Cacao), Which May Improve Memory and Mood
Yes, you finally have an excuse to eat chocolate on the daily — dark chocolate, that is. The flavonoids in cacao beans, which chocolate is produced from, act as antioxidants that may play a role in cancer prevention, heart health, and weight loss, according to a study published in December 2016 in the Journal of Neuroscience. Consumed in small amounts (around 1 ounce per day), dark chocolate with a minimum of 70 percent cacao may have other added health benefits, such as improving cognition, preventing memory loss, and boosting mood, reported a study published in April 2018 in The FASEB Journal.
Here are the nutritional facts for 1 ounce (28.35 g), or about one square, of dark chocolate with 70 to 85 percent cacao, per the USDA:
Calcium 21mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Iron 3mg, or 19 percent of the DV
Magnesium 65mg, or 15 percent of the DV
Phosphorus 87mg, or 7 percent of the DV
Potassium 203mg, or 4 percent of the DV
Zinc 1mg, or 9 percent of the DV
Niacin 0.3mg, or 2 percent of the DV
Vitamin B12 0.1mcg, or 3 percent of the DV
Vitamin K 2mcg, or 2 percent of the DV
The Top 7 Antioxidant-Rich Foods You Should Stock Up On
Here are the ingredients to grab for fighting free radicals, according to two registered dietitians.
Ever purchased a food or beverage labeled “antioxidant-rich” without really knowing what that term means? You’re not alone. (Here’s looking at you, $12 acaí bowl.)
According to the Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health, antioxidants only became well-known (and highly sought-after) by the general population in the 1990s. This was when researchers started to understand that the early stages of artery-clogging atherosclerosis, cancer, vision loss, and a host of other chronic conditions were closely correlated with free radical damage and oxidative stress—aka the very things that antioxidants help to prevent.
What Are Antioxidants, Exactly?
To understand antioxidants, it helps to know a bit about free radicals. “Free radicals are molecules that are broken down through normal metabolism and exposure to chemicals like tobacco or radiation,” explains Rachel Berman, RD and general manager of Verywell. “They can do harm to your body—think causing inflammation and increasing your risk of disease. Antioxidants are vitamins and other nutrients found in plant-based foods (like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) that prevent or slow damage to cells in your body caused by these free radicals.”
Keep in mind that antioxidants aren’t substances themselves—rather, the term “antioxidant” refers to a chemical property exhibited by hundreds of different (and non-interchangeable) substances. Many of these we’re highly familiar with, like vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene. Others are less familiar: polyphenols, flavonoids, lipoic acid, glutathione, and so on. Most antioxidants occur naturally; they exist in foods to inhibit oxidation and protect against toxins in the local environment.
“It’s important to consume a variety of foods for better health, but antioxidant-rich foods will help protect your cells against damage from free radicals and may help reduce your risk for cancer, heart disease, and other conditions,” says Berman. So if you’re looking to up your antioxidant intake, you’re in good shape—and luckily, there are plenty of delicious ingredients options for you to choose from. Here are the top antioxidant-rich foods, according to registered dietitians. (FYI, none mention any pricey matcha-goji-turmeric-tonic wellness bowls).
Kidney beans (and other beans) are rich sources of antioxidants. “The antioxidant anthocyanin is present in the skin of kidney beans, giving it its red coloring,” explains Berman. Anthocyanins have been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Believe it or not, artichoke hearts are one of the most antioxidant-rich vegetables, full of polyphenols like chlorogenic acid (also found in coffee) which may help the body better metabolize glucose and blood lipids.
“Strawberries and raspberries are all a good source of the antioxidant ellagic acid,” Berman says. “Research shows ellagic acid can make cancer-causing molecules inactive and prevent tumors from growing.” Berries—including blueberries and blackberries—also contain the antioxidants resveratrol and anthocyanin, both of which help prevent free radical damage to your cells.
Pecans are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E and have been shown to help lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body, improving heart health. Pecans are also high in monounsaturated fat and contain a decent amount of fiber, making them one of the healthiest nuts you can eat.
“Spices are incredible sources of antioxidants—not to mention they deliver incredible flavor,” says Leah Silberman, RD. She recommends topping air-popped popcorn with sea salt, rosemary, and thyme. “This snack is a great way to get both fiber and antioxidants in one bowl.” While cinnamon adds a delicious flavor, it also contains potent polyphenol antioxidants for an extra health boost.
Seeds, Particularly Pumpkin Seeds and Chia Seeds
According to Silberman, pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants like vitamin E and carotenoids. “I like taking individual pouches with me when I’m on-the-go for a nutrient-packed, filling snack.” If you prefer to go the snack bar route, look for CORE Bars, which contain antioxidant-rich ingredients like chia seeds, cherries, and dark chocolate.
“Apples, particularly the skin, are great sources of phytochemicals, including quercetin that has been studied to reduce risk of inflammation in the body,” explains Berman. For the ultimate antioxidant-rich snack, Silberman says to try sliced apples topped with peanut butter, chia seeds, and cinnamon. “All of these foods deliver a unique nutrient profile with antioxidants and combined make for a delicious, satisfying snack.”