11 Foods High in Antioxidants and Their Benefits

Jul 12, 2022 , DigestionHeart Health Tips

11 Foods High in Antioxidants and Their Benefits

Quick Health Scoop

  • Antioxidants are substances (natural and man-made) that can prevent, or slow, damage to cells caused by free radicals [1]
  • There are antioxidant-rich foods including many fruits, beans, nuts, and vegetables such as artichokes, red cabbage, and dark leafy greens
  • Some dietary supplements provide antioxidants in the form of vitamins A, C and E, carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as minerals like zinc, and nutrients like CoQ10

Why Do I Need Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are important because they help neutralize free radicals in the body. When in high concentration, free radicals may have an impact on cells and can cause oxidative stress. Having antioxidants in your body helps support you from the effects of free radicals [2]. But let’s back up and understand why.

Our bodies undertake millions of processes every day. One such process is turning the food we eat into cellular energy our body can use, and that process requires oxygen. The byproducts created by using oxygen are oxidants, also called “free radicals”. In addition to free radicals occurring inside the body, you can obtain free radicals from the outside environment, such as through pollution and sunlight, but either way, free radicals can negatively affect our cells [2].

The opposite of oxidants is antioxidants. These substances work by binding to oxidants before they can do oxidative damage [2]. Some nutrients function as antioxidants in the body, helping to neutralize free radicals. Don’t let the “anti” in the name fool you, antioxidants are good for your body!

Learn More: What Are Antioxidants?

11 Foods Containing Antioxidants

A variety of substances work as antioxidants in the body, and the best way to obtain them is through food. But when looking to load up your plate with antioxidant rich food what should you choose? Don’t worry, our list has you covered! One thing you’ll notice is the abundance of plant foods and the lack of animal foods. That’s because plant-based foods provide more antioxidants for the diet than animal-based foods.

Here are eleven foods you should consider adding to your diet to increase your antioxidant intake:

The levels of antioxidants listed are based on the FRAP (ferric reducing ability of plasma) analysis, which measures the antioxidant content of foods in millimoles (mmol) per 100 g (3.5 oz) serving. It is important to note that this value is the level of antioxidants present in food; it is not measuring the antioxidant activity in the body after ingesting that food. The higher the FRAP value, the more antioxidants that are present [3].

  1. Berries. Most berries are sources of antioxidants as they are packed with nutrients like Vitamin A and Vitamin C as well as polyphenols called anthocyanins—plant compounds (flavonoids) that give berries their color and act as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals in the body [4]. The average antioxidant level of berries is between 1.90 – 6.31 mmol/100g [3]. The most antioxidant-filled berries include raw strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and elderberries. When adding berries to your diet, aim for whole, raw berries versus jams and jellies, which tend to have added sugars.
  2. Dark chocolate. Yes, dessert can count! If you eat dark chocolate, that is. Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content and that’s where the health benefits come in due to higher antioxidant levels. Cocoa contains flavonoids, a class of antioxidants and type of phytonutrient. The higher the cocoa content, the more flavonoids. Dark chocolate with cocoa content between 70-99% had an average 10.9 mmol/100g antioxidant level [3]. Besides being an antioxidant food source, dark chocolate is more nutritious than milk chocolates that contain added sugars and milk-based ingredients and fat.
  3. Dark leafy greens. Dark leafy vegetables (think spinach and kale) are sources of lutein and beta-carotene, two antioxidants, as well as sources of vitamin E, vitamin C and vitamin K. Curly kale (bright green with curled leaves), is known for its antioxidant properties and has on average 2.8 mmol/100g [3]. If you’re not a fan of kale, try shredding it or massaging it for salads or steaming it when adding to soups and stews.
  4. Goji berries. We separated Goji berries from berries because these fruits are usually eaten dried. The plants that grow Goji berries are found in Asia, and the dried berries are usually rehydrated in the form of herbal teas and soups. These berries provide antioxidants in the form of carotenoids like zeaxanthin and polysaccharides [5]. The antioxidant content of Goji berries can be as high as 4.3 mmol/100g [3].
  5. Red cabbage. This vegetable is high in vitamins A, C, and K. The red cabbage variety is higher in anthocyanins than other varieties, which give the vegetable its color and provide antioxidant benefits to the body [6]. Cooked red cabbage has about 2.1 mmol/100g of antioxidants [3].
  6. Beans. There are many types of beans: pinto beans, kidney beans, and black beans. Beans are more inexpensive than other foods on this list, they contain antioxidants in the form of flavonoids, and are also a source of dietary fiber and protein [7]. Beans, on average, have antioxidant levels up to 0.8 mmol/100g [3]. Black beans have the highest level of anthocyanins, giving this bean the most antioxidant content followed by red , brown, yellow and white beans, in that order. [7].
  7. Coffee & green tea. When looking to beverages for antioxidants, consider coffee or green tea. Next to water, coffee and tea are the most consumed beverages across the globe and they both contain antioxidants thanks to caffeine and polyphenol antioxidants. One 3.5 oz serving of filter brewed coffee has on average 2.5 mmol/100g and green tea has about 1.5 mmol/100g [3]. Tea contains flavonoids that offer antioxidant properties. The numbers for coffee vary widely, depending on how it’s processed and prepared. Limit sugary additions to your cup of joe.
  8. Artichokes. Artichoke is a tasty vegetable that is actually the bud of a thistle flower. Artichokes have antioxidants and are also a source of nutrients like folate and magnesium as well as dietary fiber. Antioxidant levels are about 3.5 mmol/100g however, these levels increase when artichokes are steamed or boiled [3,8]. When cooked, you can enjoy the tips of the artichoke “leaves” as well as the “heart” in the middle. Delicious!
  9. Apples. Apples are interesting, in that their antioxidant levels increase when they are dried. Plain apples, on average, have an antioxidant level of about 0.4 mmol/100g. However, dried apples, for the same 100 g (3.5 oz) serving, have an average of 3.8 mmol/100g [3]. Even though dried apples are higher in sugar than fresh, they are good to add as a variety to your diet. For example, add some cut up dried apples to your next quinoa side dish or green salad for something delicious and different.
  10. Nuts. Nuts are high antioxidant foods as well as sources of healthy fats and minerals. Pecans have on average 8.5 mmol/100g and walnuts have about 21.9 mmol/100g! These numbers include the pellicle—the papery skin layer surrounding the meat of the nut that is present when we eat raw pecans and walnuts out of the shell. Nuts consumed without the pellicle (shelled peanuts, almonds) have lower amounts [3].
  11. Sunflower seeds. Though sometimes grouped in with nuts, seeds are a source of vitamin E, selenium, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Sunflower seeds have an average of 6.4 mmol/100g of antioxidants [3]. While that may seem like a lot (3.5 oz of seeds is almost ½ cup), sunflower seeds can be blended into a peanut butter alternative or added to homemade granola bars.

Learn More: The Best Green Foods To Eat & Why

Which Vitamin Supplements Provide Antioxidants?

Now let’s discuss dietary supplements. When looking to increase your antioxidant intake, you may want to consider supplements, like multivitamins, that have nutrients that provide antioxidant support. While obtaining nutrients from food is the best way to meet your nutritional needs, supplements, and those considered antioxidant supplements, may help address nutrient gaps in your diet.

Below are some nutrients that act as antioxidants to help neutralize free radicals in the body. Many of these nutrients can be found in multivitamins or individual supplements to help support your health. It is best to consult with your healthcare provider before adding any dietary supplement to your daily routine.

  • Vitamin A is essential for eye function and healthy vision and helps support the immune system.
  • Vitamin C is not only an antioxidant that helps support your immune system, but it also increases iron absorption from food and is needed for collagen synthesis to support overall skin health. Nature Made® Collagen Gummies contains vitamin C, zinc and collagen to support skin health. In addition, check out Nature Made’s portfolio of Vitamin C supplements to support your immune health in the forms you prefer, whether it’s time-release tablets, softgels, or tasty gummies.
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant and essential nutrient for many cells, including heart muscle cells and it also supports a healthy immune system.†
  • CoQ10 is a compound found naturally in the body in organs with the highest energy needs, like the heart. It helps support heart health and provides antioxidant support to protect cells from oxidative stress.
  • Zinc is an essential nutrient for a healthy immune system and provides antioxidant support. This mineral is also vital for normal growth and development.
  • Lutein & Zeaxanthin are macular carotenoids that filter blue light to help support healthy eyes. Nature Made® Vision Based on the AREDS 2 formula provides these nutrients for healthy eye function, along with vitamins C and E, copper, and zinc for antioxidant support.
  • Turmeric Curcumin is an ancient Indian spice that has become a popular herbal supplement due to its antioxidant benefits. Nature Made® offers Turmeric in capsules and tasty gummies.

The Bottom Line

Antioxidants are the opposite of oxidants (free radicals), and they work to neutralize free radicals before they can negatively affect your cells. There are many antioxidant-rich foods you can incorporate into your diet to help increase your antioxidant intake. In addition, some dietary supplements contain nutrients known for providing antioxidant support that you may want to consider including in your daily regimen after consulting with a healthcare professional.

Learn More About Vitamins and Minerals:


† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


References

  1. “Antioxidants: In Depth.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed on June 16, 2022: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. “Antioxidants & Heart Health.” April 22, 2019. Accessed on: April 21, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16739-antioxidants--heart-health
  3. Carlsen, Monica H et al. “The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.” Nutrition journal 9 3. 22 Jan. 2010, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-3. Accessed on June 16, 2022: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841576/.
  4. Kalt, W et al. “Recent Research on the Health Benefits of Blueberries and Their Anthocyanins.” Advances in Nutrition, Volume 11, Issue 2, March 2020, Pages 224–236. Accessed on June 16, 2022:  https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz065
  5. Ma, Zheng Feei et al. “Goji Berries as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Their Molecular Mechanisms of Action.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity 2019 2437397. 9 Jan. 2019, doi:10.1155/2019/2437397. Accessed on June 16, 2022: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6343173/.
  6. He, Jian, and M Monica Giusti. “Anthocyanins: natural colorants with health-promoting properties.” Annual review of food science and technology 1 (2010): 163-87. doi:10.1146/annurev.food.080708.100754. Accessed on June 16, 2022: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22129334/.
  7. American Chemical Society. "'Musical Fruit' Rich Source Of Healthy Antioxidants; Black Beans Highest." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 December 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/12/031205053236.htm>.
  8. Ferracane, Rosalia et al. “Effects of different cooking methods on antioxidant profile, antioxidant capacity, and physical characteristics of artichoke.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 56,18 (2008): 8601-8. doi:10.1021/jf800408w. Accessed on June 116, 2022: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18759447/.

Authors

Amy Mills Klipstine

NatureMade Sr. Copywriter

Amy has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles and is a credentialed English teacher, though she left the classroom to write full time. She especially enjoys creating educational content about health, wellness, and nutrition. Her happy place is in the kitchen, and when not writing, you can find her trying out “kid-friendly recipes” and “healthy desserts for chocolate lovers” from her Pinterest board.

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Melissa Dorval Pine, RD

Science and Health Educator

Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.

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