Including antioxidant-rich foods in your diet has never been more important, as air pollution, tobacco smoke, UV radiation, alcohol and fried foods expose us to countless sources of oxidative stress. Our fast-paced modern lifestyles are also fueling a sharp rise in chronic health conditions, but the good news is that including more antioxidant-rich foods in your diet can help your body resist this constant onslaught of free radicals.
You might be wondering, what are antioxidants? In short, antioxidants are molecules that are designed to counteract the harmful effects of oxidative stress, maintain the integrity of our cells, and protect our DNA from damage. Eating antioxidant-rich foods can even slow down the aging process. But since our bodies are unable to synthesize most of these vital compounds, they must be ingested through food.
Not sure where to find them? No need to worry. In this article, we’ll discuss 10 great examples of antioxidant-rich foods to help you fight free radicals and improve your long-term health. You may also find ours 7-Day Plant-Based Meal Plan helpful when it comes to learning new ways to incorporate antioxidant-rich foods into your daily diet.
Berries are a true nutritional powerhouse. Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and cranberries are one of the best food sources of vitamins and fiber. Several studies, such as one published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences (opens in new tab)showed how regular consumption of berries can significantly reduce levels of inflammation and significantly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
These strong health properties are mostly due to the exceptional levels of antioxidants in these fruits, including phenolic acids, flavonoids and vitamin C.
Although every fruit in this family will benefit our health, some will exhibit stronger antioxidant properties than others. According to a review published in foods (opens in new tab) diary, blackcurrants and blueberries tend to have the highest concentration of these vital compounds.
Pomegranates are small red fruits filled with crunchy, juicy seeds. A review published in International Journal of Chemical Research (opens in new tab) revealed how these fruits can be useful in treating many different infections and reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Although not nearly as popular as berries, pomegranates contain a relatively similar level of healthful nutrients. According to a review published in Journal of Food Bioactives (opens in new tab)they are a rich source of many different antioxidants, including ellagic acid, gallic acid, anthocyanins and ellagitannins.
Sweet and juicy, plums are another example of a great antioxidant-rich food. As described in an analysis published by Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (opens in new tab)one medium-sized fruit contains nearly 6.5 mg of vitamin C (almost 10% of your recommended daily value).
Several studies included in a review published in Phytotherapeutic studies (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 increase your antioxidant intake, consider making dark chocolate your next snack of choice. Although the bitter taste of dark chocolate may not appeal to everyone, it is one of the healthiest products you can find in the candy store. Its main ingredient, cocoa powder, is a rich nutritional source of flavonoids such as catechin, epicatechin and procyanidins. These are compounds that have been shown to lower inflammation levels, improves cardiovascular health and contributes to a better immune response.
According to a review published in Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity (opens in new tab), cocoa consumption may also have positive effects on insulin resistance, cognitive function and mood. It’s worth noting, however, that the more processed the chocolate, the less antioxidant capacity it will have. To get the most benefit, aim for minimally processed chocolate with a high cocoa content.
Beets are undoubtedly one of the best antioxidant-rich foods you can include in your diet. There are numerous 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.
Beet juice also contains a large amount of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. These vegetables are particularly rich in betalains, polyphenols that give them their characteristic purple color.
According to a review published in nutrients (opens in new tab) journal, regular consumption of beets and beet juice can lead to lower levels of inflammation, better cognitive ability, improved blood pressure and a significantly 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 beet juice can have a significant impact on athletic 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 fat, but also provide a significant amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Spinach is a great example of a green leafy vegetable high in antioxidants. A study published in Food and function (opens in new tab) show that regular consumption of spinach can lead to a reduced risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis and several types of cancer.
What’s more, this green leafy vegetable can be extremely beneficial for our eye and brain health. Contains two powerful carotenoid antioxidants: lutein and zeaxanthin. And according to a review published in Nutrition reviews (opens in new tab) journal, lutein and zeaxanthin can absorb harmful blue light that enters the eye, protecting this vital organ from degeneration.
The artichoke is a vegetable that tastes similar to asparagus and is most commonly found in Mediterranean diet. They are a rich source of inulin, type a prebiotic fiber as well as potassium and vitamin C.
According to a review recently published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences (opens in new tab)artichoke has been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. These characteristically bulky vegetables are also a rich source of antioxidants such as vitamin C, hydroxycinnamic acids, polyphenols and flavonoids.
Legumes: beans, lentils and peas
When you think of antioxidant-rich foods, legumes—beans, lentils, and peas—probably don’t come to mind. However, many of these examples of these staples provide a large amount of polyphenols with strong free radical scavenging abilities.
According to an analysis published in Journal of Food Science (opens in new tab), yellow peas, green peas, chickpeas, soybeans, common beans, lentils and red beans are the lentils with the highest antioxidant capacity. They are also some of the the best vegan sources of protein to include in your diet and high in fiber.
Although nuts are high in calories and dietary fat, they have many health benefits. A review published in nutrients (opens in new tab) revealed that regular consumption of nuts can significantly reduce the risk of developing many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, gallstones and some cancers. One of the reasons for this positive effect is that these staple foods contain many different carotenoids, phytosterols (plant steroids) and ellagic acids with strong antioxidant properties.
And according to a comparison published in Food Science and Technology (opens in new tab) diary, walnuts and pecans tend to show the highest free radical scavenging ability.
Oatmeal is a great breakfast choice – filling, nutritious and easy to combine with your choice of toppings. It is also high in protein, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamins B, C, E and K.
According to a review published by 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 be excellent at scavenging free radicals, activating cell repair mechanisms, and protecting against cell damage, as described in foods (opens in new tab) diary.
Antioxidants. (March 3, 2021). The source of nutrition. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/ (opens in new tab)
Antioxidants: In depth. (2013). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth (opens in new tab)