Including antioxidant rich foods in your diet has never been more important, with air pollution, tobacco smoke, UV radiation, alcohol and fried foods all exposing us to countless sources of oxidative stress. Our fast modern lifestyles have fueled the steep rise in chronic health conditions too, but the good news is that including more antioxidant rich foods in your diet can help your body to withstand this constant attack from free radicals.
You might be wondering, what are antioxidants? In short, antioxidants are molecules that are built to counteract the harmful effects of oxidative stress, preserve the integrity of our cells and protect our DNA from damage. Consuming antioxidant rich foods may even delay the aging process. However, since our bodies are not able to synthesize the vast majority of these vital compounds, they have to be ingested with foods.
Not sure where to find them? No need to worry. In this article, we will discuss 10 great examples of antioxidant rich foods to help you fight free radicals and improve your health in the long-term. You might also find our 7-day plant-based diet meal plan helpful when it comes to learning new ways to incorporate antioxidant rich foods into your daily diet. If you're looking to give your skin a boost you can have a look at our guide to what do antioxidants do for your skin.
Berries are a true nutritional powerhouse. Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and cranberries are one of the best dietary sources of vitamins and fiber. Multiple studies, such as one published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (opens in new tab), have shown how regular consumption of berries can significantly bring down inflammation levels and vastly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer.
These strong health-promoting properties are mostly down to the exceptional levels of antioxidants in these fruits, including phenolic acids, flavonoids and vitamin C.
Although every fruit from this family will benefit our health, some will exhibit stronger antioxidant properties than the others. According to a review published in the Foods (opens in new tab) journal, blackcurrants and blueberries tend to have the highest concentration of these vital compounds.
Pomegranates are small red fruits packed with crunchy, juicy seeds. A review published in the International Journal of Chemical Studies (opens in new tab) revealed how these fruits may be useful at treating a host of different infections and reducing the risk of developing chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Though nowhere near as popular as berries, pomegranates contain a relatively similar level of health-promoting nutrients. According to a review published in the Journal of Food Bioactives (opens in new tab), they are a rich source of many different antioxidants, including ellagic acids, gallic acids, anthocyanins, and ellagitannins.
Sweet and juicy, plums are another example of a great antioxidant rich food. As described in an analysis published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (opens in new tab), one medium-sized fruit contains nearly 6.5mg of vitamin C (almost 10% of your recommended Daily Value).
Multiple studies included in a review published in Phytotherapy Research (opens in new tab) demonstrated that regular consumption of plums can lead to better cognitive function, bone density and cardiovascular health.
If you want to top up your antioxidant intake, consider making dark chocolate your next snack of choice. Although dark chocolate’s bitter flavor may not be to everyone’s liking, it’s one of the healthiest items you can find in the confectionary aisle. Its main ingredient, cocoa powder, is a rich dietary source of flavonoids like catechin, epicatechin and procyanidins. These are compounds that have been shown to lower inflammation levels, improve cardiovascular health and contribute to better immune responses.
According to a review published in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity (opens in new tab), cocoa consumption may also have a positive impact on insulin resistance, cognitive function and mood. It’s worth noting though that the more processed the chocolate, the less of an antioxidant capacity it will have. To get the most benefit, aim for minimally processed chocolate with a high cocoa content.
Beetroots are undoubtedly one of the best antioxidant rich foods you can include in your diet. There are multiple health benefits associated with their consumption. These root vegetables provide a significant amount of nitrates, compounds that have a direct impact on the functioning of our cardiovascular system.
Beetroot juice also contains a high amount of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. These vegetables are particularly abundant in betalains, polyphenols which give them their characteristic purple coloring.
According to a review published in the Nutrients (opens in new tab) journal, regular beetroot and beetroot juice consumption can lead to lower inflammation levels, better cognition, improved blood pressure and a vastly reduced risk of developing several types of cancer. A review published in Sports Medicine (opens in new tab) also suggests that there is some evidence that beetroot juice may have a significant impact on the sports performance among athletes.
Green leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Kale, spinach, watercress, cabbage or lettuce are not only very low in calories and dietary fats, they also provide a significant amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Spinach is a great example of a green leafy vegetable with a high antioxidant content. Research published in Food and Function (opens in new tab) showed that regular consumption of spinach may lead to a reduced risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis and several types of cancer.
What’s more, this green leafy vegetable may be uniquely beneficial to our eye and brain health. It contains two powerful carotenoid antioxidants: lutein and zeaxanthin. And according to a review published in the Nutrition Reviews (opens in new tab) journal, lutein and zeaxanthin can absorb damaging blue light that enters the eye, protecting this vital organ from degeneration.
Artichoke is a vegetable that has a similar taste to asparagus and is most commonly found in the Mediterranean diet. They are a rich source of inulin, a type of a prebiotic fiber, as well as potassium and vitamin C.
According to a review recently published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (opens in new tab), artichokes have been shown to possess strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. These characteristically bulky vegetables are also a rich source of antioxidants like vitamin C, hydroxycinnamic acids, polyphenols and flavonoids.
Legumes: beans, lentils and peas
When thinking about antioxidant rich foods, it’s likely that legumes — beans, lentils and peas — would not cross your mind. However, many of these examples of these staples provide a high amount of polyphenols with strong free radical scavenging abilities.
According to an analysis published in the Journal of Food Science (opens in new tab), yellow pea, green pea, chickpea, soybean, common bean, lentils, and red kidney bean are the lentils with the highest antioxidant abilities. They’re also some of the best vegan sources of protein to include in your diet and high in fiber.
Although nuts are very high in calories and dietary fats, they have many health benefits. A review published in Nutrients (opens in new tab) revealed that regular nut consumption can vastly decrease the risk of developing a host of chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, gallstones and certain types of cancer. One of the reasons behind this positive impact is that these food staples contain many different carotenoids, phytosterols (plant steroids) and ellagic acids with strong antioxidant properties.
And according to a comparison published in the Food Science and Technology (opens in new tab) journal, walnuts and pecans tend to show the highest ability to scavenge free radicals.
Oatmeal is a great choice for breakfast – it’s filling, nutritious, and easy to combine with toppings of your choice. It’s also high in protein, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamins B, C, E and K.
According to a review published by the Antioxidants (opens in new tab) journal, oats contain high levels of many important antioxidants, including beta-carotene, polyphenols, chlorophyll and flavonoids. They have been shown to excel at scavenging free radicals, activating cell repair mechanisms and protecting against cell damage, as described in the Foods (opens in new tab) journal.
Antioxidants. (2021, March 3). The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/ (opens in new tab)
Antioxidants: In depth. (2013). National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth (opens in new tab)