14 of the Best Antioxidant Foods
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You’ve probably heard countless times that antioxidants are good for you. But what exactly are antioxidants — and why do you need them?
Antioxidants are natural compounds that can support healthy cell function. “Antioxidants help support overall health by fighting free radical cell damage,” says Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, dietitian and author of The Little Book Of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits For Managing Stress & Anxiety.
Cording recommends eating a balanced, healthy diet that includes plenty of antioxidant-rich foods. “Add berries to a morning smoothie, use olive oil in a salad at lunch, snack on walnuts, enjoy roasted sweet potato at dinner, have cherries and a piece of dark chocolate for dessert,” she says.
Here are some of the foods with the highest antioxidant profiles.
This spiky Mediterranean staple has the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable. You’ll get your antioxidants in the form of vitamin C and silymarin (a flavonoid that is being researched on it’s potential linked to skin health).
Berries continually rank high on antioxidant food lists. So which berries are best?
- Blueberries: Research suggests blueberries have the highest total antioxidant capacity, and they’re also high in manganese and a good source of vitamin C. Wild blueberries in particular are rich in a flavonoid called anthocyanin.
- Cranberries: These tart berries are known for their high content of phenolic compounds, along with other antioxidants including flavonoids, anthocyanins, and vitamin C.
- Blackberries: They contain phenolic compounds including tannins, quercetin, anthocyanins, and cyanidins.
- Strawberries: They’re not only a great source of vitamin C, they also contain antioxidants in the form of phenolic acids and flavonoids.
While the roasting process significantly decreases the amount of antioxidants found in coffee beans, it actually creates other antioxidants including melanoidins and polymeric compounds. One study found that espresso has higher antioxidant potential (by volume) than brewed coffee — one more reason to order that latte (just remember not hold the sugar!).
4. Dark Chocolate
Before they’re processed to make sweet treats, cocoa beans are too bitter to be edible. That’s because of their high concentration of antioxidant polyphenols — and while some of those phenolic compounds go to the wayside during processing, cocoa still has higher antioxidant capacity than green tea and red wine. When choosing dark chocolate, look at the percentage of cocoa listed on the label — the higher the percentage, the better. (Aim for 80% or higher if possible.)
5. Green Tea
Compared to other types of tea, green tea has the highest concentration of polyphenols. In particular, green tea contains high concentrations of epigalocatechin gallate (EGCG), a type of flavanol with powerful antioxidant properties.
6. Herbs and Spices
Some of your favorite seasonings can do more than just flavor your food — allspice, cinnamon, clove, mint, oregano, and thyme have particularly high levels of antioxidants. If you can get your hands on fresh versions, you may boost your antioxidant consumption even more, since research suggests dried versions may have decreased antioxidant capacity. (But using dried herbs and spices is still a healthier option than seasoning with salt or high-sodium seasoning blends, so keep your spice rack well-stocked.)
8. Olive Oil
While refined olive oil ranks low on antioxidant food lists, the extra-virgin version has the highest level of polyphenols. That may be why it’s the oil most commonly used in blue zones, the communities around the world where people live the longest.
Research suggests pecans are among the healthiest of all nuts, with high concentrations of phenolic compounds including flavanols, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins, and phenolic acid. They’re also a great source of manganese.
10. Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are another source of antioxidant polyphenols — and if you can get your hands on purple sweet potatoes, you can benefit from a high concentration of anthocyanins, a phenolic compound that contributes to that distinct purple hue.