Foods rich in antioxidants may have some of the best health benefits out of anything you can eat. So far science hasn’t been able to show that antioxidants themselves are effective at preventing or treating disease.
But people who eat diets filled with foods rich in antioxidants have a lower risk of suffering from many chronic conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure, and may even benefit from cancer prevention (1).
Here are 70 of these superfoods and details on how they can help your health.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances that are thought to help prevent or delay some types of cell damage in your body.
Certain reactions in the body and exposure to toxins like smoke can create unstable substances called free radicals. Free radicals and other harmful substances lead to oxidative stress, which is a process that causes cell damage.
Harmful effects from oxidative stress seems to be involved in many common chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Antioxidants are thought to work towards reducing inflammation and damage in the body caused by oxidative stress. Foods that are full of antioxidants are also rich in essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients shown to boost our health by supporting our immunity and helping to prevent and treat many chronic diseases.
Unfortunately, almost no meaningful benefits were found when scientists looked at isolated antioxidant supplements in people, despite multiple well done studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and other reputable research groups. In fact, some of these studies showed that there were some risks to taking high doses of antioxidant supplements which warrants caution, and has created some controversy on their role in our heath.
What’s not controversial is that eating food naturally rich in antioxidants offer benefits in a multitude of ways, even though it’s unclear if the antioxidants themselves are responsible for the benefits.
A diet rich in these superfoods has been shown to help prevent and treat a wide range of health conditions including a lower the risk of heart disease, cancers, stroke, cataracts and infections (2).
Foods High in Antioxidants
Incorporating plant based foods that are rich in antioxidants like fruits and vegetables along with whole grains and lean protein in a balanced diet will provide you with the best support to both protect and fuel your body.
Below are some prime examples of foods enriched with antioxidants to start including in your meals.
- Dark Chocolate
- Oranges & Other Vitamin C Rich Foods
- Avocado & Other Vitamin E Rich Foods
- Tuna & Other Selenium Rich Foods
- Carrots & Other Carotenoids Foods
Chocolate is a favorite guilty treat that may also offer an antioxidant bonus from its good source of flavanoids and other phenolic compounds. These come from the coco bean, which is a taken from the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree.
But it’s easy for chocolate eating to quickly get out of hand. Eating more than sparing amounts leads to high calorie and sugar consumption that can cause weight gain and high glucose levels (4).
Bottom line: small amounts of dark chocolate may give you a health boost but negative effects of larger quantities can outweigh any antioxidant benefits.
Oranges & Other Vitamins C Antioxidant Rich Foods
Vitamin C is arguably the most well known antioxidant. It helps to support your immune system, vision and is important in wound healing as well as tissue repair. It has also been shown to have a regenerative effect on other antioxidants in the body including vitamin E (5).
10 Vitamin C Foods
- Green Peppers
Avocado & Other Vitamin E Rich Foods
Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, in addition to supporting our immune system, blood vessels and vision.
10 Vitamin E Foods
- Sunflower Seeds
- Peanut Butter
Tuna & Other Selenium Rich Foods
Selenium is an important element mostly found in meat that also can serve as an antioxidant and has an important role in thyroid function (6).
10 Sources of Selenium
- Brazil Nuts
- Cottage Cheese
Carrots & Other Carotenoids Foods
Carotenoids are another category of antioxidants that are theorized to have a variety of health benefits. Over 600 of these carotenoids have been identified in foods (7) .
Among these, beta-carotene is considered the most important pro-vitamin A carotenoid. The body is able to make vitamin A out of these beta-carotene as well as other provitamin A carotenoids like alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin (8, 9).
10 Beta-Carotene Foods
- Sweet Potatoes
Other well known carotenoids that are not converted into vitamin A but are still thought to have powerful antioxidant effects include lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin (10).
10 Lycopene Foods
- Bell Peppers
10 Lutein and Zeaxanthin Foods
- Collard Greens
The Top 10 Antioxidant Rich Foods
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition released a list of the top 50 foods with thought to have the most concentrated antioxidants (11). The top 10 are listed below, many of which are some favorite herbs.
- Ground Cloves
- Oregano Leaf
- Ground Ginger
- Ground Cinnamon
- Tumeric Powder
- Basil Leaf
- Yellow Mustard Seed
- Curry Powder
Chocolate was actually listed as the 11th most antioxidant rich item !
Science supports that eating antioxidants found naturally as part of food are good for you in all sorts of ways. So, it may seem to make sense to assume that antioxidant supplements would also be good for you.
Many animal studies and lab experiments demonstrate isolated antioxidant supplements improve oxidative stress, possibly in part by neutralizing some of these free radicals and thus preventing them from doing harm.
But because these successful outcomes were from test tubes and animals, the big question is if benefits are also seen when these supplements are studied in people.
So far scientists have found our eyes may see the biggest benefit. A combination of antioxidant supplements of vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene in humans lowered the risk of vision problems (specifically macular degeneration) by 17% which further increased to 25% when zinc was added as an additional supplement. Further research suggested that two other carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin may offer some additional benefit in certain circumstances.
While positive effects were found on vision, most antioxidant supplements do not seem to be helpful, and some may even cause harm.
Unfortunately, well done studies on more than 100,000 people has shown that antioxidant supplements are generally not helpful in treating or preventing disease.
What’s more is that certain antioxidant supplements can even be dangerous, especially if taken in high doses. For example, higher rates of lung cancer were found in smokers who take high doses of beta-carotene; and higher rates of prostate cancer and stroke were found in people who take high doses of vitamin E.
Some of these supplements sold in the stores are also not approved by the FDA and some can interact with medications and cause dangerous complications (12).
This brings into question whether or not antioxidants themselves are responsible for the beneficial effects associated with them. Other components in food with high levels of antioxidants may instead be promoting these positive effects. Alternatively, the antioxidant activity in the body may be more effective when eaten in their natural food form.
Another possibility is that there are confounding factors to the effects seen - ie: people who eat foods rich in antioxidants are also more likely to have other healthy lifestyle choices and be of a healthy weight that leads to lower risks of chronic diseases observed. More research certainly needs to be done for scientists to discern the details on antioxidant benefits (13).
Bottom line: More of a good thing isn’t always better. Science shows that taking too many supplements can be harmful. Eating foods rich in antioxidants is the best way to get all of the antioxidant goodness your body needs.