You probably already know that eating fruits and vegetables are good for your health part because they’re high in antioxidants.
And we know from What Are Antioxidants? that "antioxidants" are your body’s natural defense system against "oxidants".
Oxidants are free radicals that you get exposed to from the environment, but "they're also produced naturally in your body.” says Diane McKay, Ph.D., an assistant professor, and researcher at Tufts University’s Antioxidants Research Laboratory (1).
Your body creates oxidants to help fend off viruses and microbes, but if you have too many, they can cause serious damage and contribute to many diseases, including certain types of cancers and heart diseases.
These free radicals are dangerous to the body. They are not only capable of attacking the healthy cells of the body but can lead to disease and disorders.
In fact, cells damage caused by free radicals appears to be a major contributor to aging and diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and weakening of immune system (2).
Overall free radicals have been linked to at least 50 different diseases (3).
Antioxidants are their best defense and prevention, capable of stabilizing or deactivating free radicals before they attack cells in our bodies. In short, antioxidants have the ability to help prevent and stop cell damage caused by oxidants.
Although antioxidants occur naturally in pretty much all foods—plant and meats, plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits contain a higher amount compared to meat and fish. Berries are a particularly good source, but nuts, seeds, and even wine contain antioxidants (4).
These antioxidants include vitamin A (beta-carotene), C, E and Catechins, often found in green tea and dark chocolate (cocoa) (5).
The level of antioxidants in foods is evaluated by ORAC Score, which stands for "oxygen radical absorbance capacity". ORAC measurement was originally developed by the National Institute of Aging and are based on 100 grams of each food.
Per their research and scoring, some foods are exceptionally high in antioxidants and contain a wider range of nutrients than others. Amongst those, some foods are more nutritious, lower in calories than others.
We compiled the very best antioxidants foods that also provide the best nutrition bang for your buck.
Here is a list of the top 12 antioxidant foods to include in your diet.
1. Goji Berries
Goji berries are one of the most nutritionally dense fruits on the planet.
They’re loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and phytonutrients, including vitamin B12, A, C, and iron (6).
In fact, goji berries contain more vitamin C than any other fruit on earth and more iron than spinach ounce for ounce.
Goji berries are also an excellent source of protein, one 28 gram serving has 3 grams of protein.
While this may seem small, it's a valid source containing 18 different amino acids including all of the nine essential ones that help repair body tissues, muscles as well as aiding in the breaking down of food (7, 8).
These small sweet berries are considered one of the best sources of antioxidants (9).
As we mentioned earlier in the post, antioxidants are very important for human health, providing protection to our DNA from cell damage caused by harmful free radicals.
Antioxidant rich foods like goji berries have been shown to help benefits the body by boosting the immune system, increasing your brain activity, and reducing the risk of heart disease and certain cancers (10).
Goji berries have definitely earned the superfood status for their health benefits and anti-oxidative properties.
2. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is packed with nutrients that can positively affect your health.
In fact, the unprocessed cocoa beans are among the most antioxidants containing foods on the planet.
Made from the seeds of the cocoa tree, an incredible source of antioxidants, dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidant compounds that can lower your risk of cancer and heart disease, including polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, and more.
One study shows that cacao which is the dark chocolate's main ingredient contains more antioxidants activity, polyphenols, and flavanols than other fruits tested including blueberries and Acai berries (11).
However, not all chocolate, let alone dark chocolates are all the same.
Be sure to get chocolate with over 70% cacao content. Anything less tends to be less nutritional as cacao is diluted and replaced by milk and sugar.
3. Pecan Nuts
Pecans are #1 antioxidants among all nuts based on their ORAC scores. They offer tremendous health benefits and can help improve many aspects of your health (12).
Pecan nuts are an excellent source of energy and contain many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to beautiful skin and a healthy heart.
These antioxidants include ellagic acid, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Many studies show that antioxidants such as these have been proven to fight off free radicals that increase the risk for disease and increase the effects of aging.
They may even help fight off the risks associated with cancer and early death (13).
Just like almonds, pecans are also high in monounsaturated fats and they help improve cholesterol levels by lowering the bad cholesterol, aka LDL and improving levels of HDL, the good cholesterol (14).
They’re also packed with magnesium, iron, calcium, selenium, and zinc —like almonds and pumpkin seeds.
Among nuts and seeds, their B vitamin contents are one of the highest and include a wide variety from riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, and to folate.
B vitamins help improve your mood, metabolism, thyroid function, digestion, and overall nervous system health.
Also, check out the list of other healthy nuts.
4. Wild Blueberries
Wild blueberries are a nutrient rich food packed with dietary fiber, vitamin C, K, and manganese.
There’s about 6.2 g of dietary fiber per cup, which provides 25% of your recommended Daily Value (DV). Research has shown that fiber-rich foods may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes (15).
Wild blueberries are an excellent source of manganese. In fact, one cup provides 200% DV of manganese, a trace of mineral that plays an important role in bone development and other bodily functions (16).
Wild blueberries are also made up of about 80% of water. This brings down their calories to just 80 calories per cup (17).
These wild blueberries are also antioxidants superstars.
They have a higher antioxidant capacity (ORAC) than most other fruits and vegetables, which helps neutralize free radicals that can cause cell damage leading to cancer, heart disease, and other age-related conditions.
Calories for calories, wild blueberries are an excellent source of several important nutrients that are good for your health.
Elderberries, also known as healing berries do just that —heal.
They are incredibly nutritious and an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including fiber and vitamin A.
In fact 1 cup (145 g) of elderberries provides 10 g of dietary fiber, which is about 40 percent of the daily recommended value, and 87% of infection-fighting vitamin C. This is reportedly more than any other plants besides black currants and roseships (18).
Other prominent ingredients in elderberries include iron (13% of the daily value) as well as potassium, vitamin B6, and lots of beta-carotene.
In ancient medicine, elderberries were widely used to treat wounds by applying to the skin. It was also taken by mouth to treat respiratory illnesses such as cold and flu. In addition, elderberries may also have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-influenza, and anticancer properties (19).
As for the antioxidants properties, these healing berries contain flavonoids, most known to prevent damage to the body’s cells.
In fact, for the flavonol content, elderberries outrank blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, and blackberries (20).
If your body needs some healing properties, be sure to include elderberries into your diet.
Cranberries are at the top of the list—as far as health foods go.
They are rich in nutrients and antioxidant properties. Not to mention, they are low in calories. 1 cup of cranberries is only 45 calories. Eating even a handful wouldn't hardly cause a dent in your diet.
Among all, cranberries are the fruit with the greatest antioxidants properties (21).
They are also a very good source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, and manganese, vitamin E, vitamin K, copper and pantothenic acid.
Researchers believe that cranberries have super powers— and they can help you heal from head to toes. On top of the list, they can protect your heart, improve cholesterol and enhance your health profile.
According to one study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, people who drank a glass of unsweetened cranberry juice a day increased their HDL, good, cholesterol by about 10 percent (22).
Overall cranberries can be a great addition to your health diet.
Artichoke is one of the best veggies to add to your diet if you want to improve your health and lower your risk of many diseases.
This somewhat unconventional vegetable is a secret nutritional powerhouse with benefits often only seen in superfoods. This green veggie is said to help protect you against certain cancers, diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke (23).
It has also shown to enhance immune system strength and lower cholesterol, which only adds more health power to you.
For those into detox, artichoke is a must add.
It has long been long famous for its works to offset your digestive issues such as digestion, constipation, irritable syndrome and diarrhea by improving the liver functions.
Furthermore, they can reduce blood pressure, eliminate hangovers, and stimulate urination (24).
Best part is, eating a whole load only packs in nutrients, not fat or cholesterol.
They are low in fat and cholesterol while being super rich in fiber and vitamins, including vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B-6, B-12, A, E, D and vitamin K.
Artichokes also provide minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, sodium, potassium, manganese, phosphorus in addition to other essential nutrients.
As for its antioxidants activity level, artichoke is ranked #7 in antioxidant content out of 1,000 other plant foods per USDA research. With richness in antioxidants, artichoke can magically and naturally help add defense to anything from against aging to diseases, so be sure to grab a couple at your next grocery trip.
8. Kidney Beans
If you’re looking to boost your antioxidants intake with something that's not veggies or fruits, look no further.
Kidney beans are another top ranking antioxidant food you can actually eat and feel incredibly satisfied.
What’s more, kidney beans also rank very low on the glycemic index list, a measure on how foods affect the blood sugar after a meal. Lower the score, less impact it makes on your blood sugar, giving you a better handle on its levels. It's an essential measure especially to those diagnosed as diabetics, but really, it's beyond fundamental to us all.
Another incredible benefit of kidney beans is its richness in dietary fiber—they contain significant amounts of resistant starch, which is known to help stabilize blood sugar and lower cholesterol (28). Research has also shown how resistant starch plays an important role in weight management (29).
To add to the list, when paired with rice, they make a complete protein. Yet, alone, each lacks the amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
Prunes may be known as a food on its own, but they are basically plums that have been dried naturally in the sun without undergoing any fermentation process.
They are incredibly nutritious and contain many nutrients that can contribute to good health, especially to your bone health. According to one study published in the Natural Medicine Journal, consumption of dried plums significantly increased the bone mineral density of ulna and spine when compared to dried apple (30).
Prunes are also a good source of energy that doesn't shoot up your blood sugar levels, which makes them an excellent snack for people with type II diabetes.
Besides being an energy source, prunes is an excellent fiber and antioxidant food known for containing nutrients such as potassium, iron and retinol, vitamin K and antioxidant beta-carotene.
Just one cup of prunes provides 87% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K, more than 20% of most B vitamins, 8% of calcium and 27% of potassium. Each prune (appx. 9.5g) offers 23 calories.
10. Red Apple
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away." is not just your grandma's two cents.
There is much truth to the old, famous saying.
Apples are not only an accessible, tasty fruit loved by anyone from a little toddler to your grandma. They are a good source of fiber and vitamin C (31).
Red apples in particular, contain a class of antioxidant compounds called Phytochemicals (32).
They are plant compounds known to protect against chronic disease by inhibiting cell proliferation and regulating the immune system and inflammatory response.
The phytochemicals you see commonly in fruits and vegetables are the flavonoids. In the United States, 22% of all dietary flavonoids consumption comes from apples, making them the second largest source in our diets (33).
But out of all apples, red apple are packed a heftier antioxidant punch and disease-fighting abilities than other apples. So, when in doubt, grab red apples for higher antioxidant properties.
Apples are easy to pack, portable and not messy unlike other fruits, making them ideal for healthy snacking on the go.
With only 62 calories per cup, virtually no fat and cholesterol, blackberries are a true guilt-free pleasure.
They also provide nutrients almost anyone can appreciate.
One cup of blackberries provides 7.6 grams of dietary fiber, 2 grams of protein, and 1 gram of sodium. That's more than triple of fiber in 1 tbsp of flaxseeds (34).
If you are one of the 97% of us who are fiber deficient, having two handful of blackberries can satisfy half of your daily recommended fiber intake.
If you are trying to lose weight, blackberries can also be a great addition to your diet.
They are a great source of quick energy, and their high fiber content can help you stay full until your next meal, preventing you from wanting to snack between meals.
Also, they are fat free and full of essential nutrients, fueling your body and metabolism to the fullest. Their nutrient list is quite extensive and includes everything from vitamin C, Vitamin A, E, K and B vitamins and to antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which fight off free radicals and against aging and chronic disease.
Blackberries also include minerals like copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin. If you want a well-rounded fruit that leaves almost no dent in your weight loss diet, blackberries are it.
Cilantro is a popular Mediterranean herb that also goes by the name coriander in Asia (35).
It's widely used in variety of cuisines in almost all parts of the world. Cilantro is not only savory but a notable plant for disease preventing and health promoting properties.
While it's calorie and cholesterol free, it's rich in anti-oxidant polphnolic flavonoids such as quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and epigenin.
It's also a great source of potassium, calcium, maganese, iron and magnesium. Potassium especially is known to help regulate blood pressure and heart rate.
About 30% of daily recommended dose of vitamin C, a natural antioxidant can also be found in every 100g.
Cilantro's vitamin K dose is no less valuable. It's widely known for its role in bone.
As you can see, antioxidants are naturally available in many plant-based foods—everything from berries, green tea, and to cocoa—have some antioxidant properties.
The take-away here is to eat a variety of these foods to ensure you’re getting all the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals your body needs.
Another unsuspected source of antioxidants is herbs and spices. We named cilantro on our list, but other herbs such as oregano, thyme, ginger, basil, parsley, and turmeric, even cinnamon are known for their richness in antioxidants.
What’s interesting is herbs and spices actually score higher on the ORAC measure, containing more antioxidants activity than the foods listed. So don't shy away from using herbs. They can easily be added and incorporated into your cooking and make a nice garnish.
Which one of these antioxidant foods will you include in your diet?