Getting a healthy and nutritious diet can be challenging at times, as can trying to find high antioxidant foods that fit your tastes.
Luckily, these essential nutrients are found within a huge range of foods, including meats, berries, drinks, and spices, so fitting some antioxidants into your diet shouldn’t be as difficult as you might expect.
Here at OriGym, we have compiled this list to answer the question; “what are antioxidant rich foods?”. That way, you can get a health boost without too much hassle!
We’ll cover the following topics in this guide:
- What are antioxidants?
- Antioxidant Foods
- Antioxidant Foods: How They Work
- What Are The Best Antioxidant Foods?
Before we jump in, if you’re looking to extend your health and nutrition knowledge, you can do so with our level 4 advanced sports nutrition course. Download our course prospectus for more information, and for a complete list of OriGym’s courses and diplomas.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that are formed within the body, and also taken in through our diet. They are essential to maintaining the health of the body by neutralizing cells known as free radicals.
In low levels, free radicals actually assist the body in fighting off infections and diseases. However, if the number of free radicals within the body becomes too high, they can do more harm than good.
When free radical cells reach dangerous levels, they cause oxidative stress. If there are more free radicals present within the body in comparison to antioxidants, they become more volatile and likely to react with other cells, with long-chain reactions causing damage.
Free radicals are also formed in the body when we are exposed to stress, sunlight, pollution and tobacco smoke.
Our bodies produce antioxidants naturally, but if our level of free radicals becomes too high, we need to gain some from our diet too to act as a defence.
Continuous oxidative stress can take its toll on our body and lead to DNA damage, which in turn can increase our likelihood of developing chronic illnesses, and also contributes to signs of aging.
Fortunately, most people will consume adequate levels of antioxidants without even knowing it.
The most common antioxidants are Vitamin C and Vitamin E. There are also a number of other antioxidant rich foods that contain these essential vitamins that you probably have never even considered, such as potatoes and seaweed!
Throughout this article we are going to discuss the best antioxidant foods that you should add to your diet to give your health a quick-fire boost!
This may come as a surprise (and a happy one at that!) but dark chocolate is one of the highest antioxidant foods on this list.
Research has shown that 100g of dark chocolate contains approximately 4.18mg of antioxidants, ranking it 11th out of the highest antioxidant foods in the world.
Don’t go reaching for a full bar just yet though, as although it does contain some health benefits it should still be consumed in moderation, as it can have a high calorie count. Be sure to get the most benefits by eating dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao content as well.
The antioxidant activity in dark chocolate comes from several compounds found in the cacao bean, known as flavonoids, polyphenols and theobromine.
The flavonoids are a common antioxidant found in foods and in dark chocolate: they are known to promote nitrous oxide (NO) production. NO is primarily responsible for relaxing our blood vessels and allowing blood to flow more freely, thus in turn reducing our blood pressure.
A study was undertaken focusing on the effects that dark chocolate consumption had on participants with high blood pressure. Results showed that when participants consumed 25g of dark chocolate on a daily basis, their blood pressure reduced significantly compared to a control group who did not consume the chocolate.
Another antioxidant found in chocolates, polyphenols, have been linked to increasing our high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and reducing our low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Research has solidified this statement, a study showed that when participants consumed dark chocolate daily for 15 days their cholesterol levels significantly dropped.
Fortunately for us, dark chocolate is actually one of the sweetest foods with the highest antioxidant content. Although be aware, the lower the cacao content the more milk and sugar it will contain.
For another sweet treat that isn’t too bad for you, try one of the best healthy ice creams!
Well-known for their superfood status, blueberries are one of most potent antioxidant foods that have a whole range of other health benefits too.
These small but mighty purple berries contain an array of vitamins and minerals that can be easily incorporated into almost any diet, through smoothies, on porridge, or just as a nutritious snack.
The main types of antioxidants found in blueberries are polyphenols and flavonoids. It is mainly the flavonoids which give the blueberries their free radical fighting ability.
Moreover, anthocyanins, an antioxidant belonging to the flavonoid family, have been found to reduce the risk of heart attacks when consumed in large amounts.
Anthocyanins are a water-soluble substance which gives fruits and vegetables their colour, which is why blueberries have their signature purple-blue colour.
They have also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity which in turn can aid in the reduction of the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
Blueberries are one of the best sources of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Ascorbic acid is classed as an antioxidant due to the effect it has on neutralizing free radicals. This vitamin is most commonly known for protecting our immune system but it is also one of the best dietary antioxidants alongside Vitamins A and E.
Not only does Vitamin C reduce the damaging effect of free radicals, but it also helps regenerate other vitamins which have been made inactive in the body.
Vitamin A is also present in blueberries, however in smaller quantities than Vitamin C. Being one of the most antioxidant foods isn’t the only great thing about blueberries either; read our article on the benefits of blueberries to find out what else they can do for you!
Blueberries are a versatile fruit, and they’re a great snack for anyone looking to lose weight due to their low calorie content.
Artichokes rank as the vegetable with the highest antioxidant content (even though they are technically a thistle).
They are a naturally rich source of multiple vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A, K, C, magnesium, zinc and potassium. They are also high in fiber and low in fat.
Another healthy source of potassium (among other vitamins and minerals) is coconut water.
Historically, the artichoke was regarded as an effective digestive aid and the ancient Greeks reserved this vegetable for the rich due to its believed healing powers. Fast forward to the current day and many studies have proved that the ancient Greeks may have been correct.
Artichokes contain a range of antioxidants such as cynarin and silymarin. It is these antioxidants which have been the focus of many studies due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Artichokes are also known to help reduce our LDL cholesterol levels. LDL cholesterol is known as the bad cholesterol in our bodies as high levels lead to fatty buildups in our arteries.
The flavonoid compound found in artichoke extract, Luteolin, has been shown to prevent the formation of cholesterol.
In a study on the effectiveness of artichoke at reducing lipids in the body, it was found that participants' LDL cholesterol levels were lowered when they received a daily dose of artichoke extract, compared to a control group which did not consume the extract.
It is important to note that while the consumption of artichoke will no doubt increase your vitamin and mineral intake, studies on the antioxidant efficiency found in artichokes have been mostly based on artichoke leaf extract, which is a more concentrated version.
However, artichoke leaf supplements are widely available in most health and fitness stores and are usually reasonably priced.
Unfortunately we don’t mean the baked kind (we wish we did!).
Beans are high in protein and fiber, and low in calories and fat, which makes them a great addition to our diet and another one of the high antioxidant foods.
The main types of beans which rank highest on the list of antioxidant rich foods are:
- Red beans
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
The antioxidant activity in beans depends mostly on how they are cooked. When boiling beans, their antioxidant levels can drop by up to 30% compared to steaming.
The dominant antioxidants found in kidney beans are isoflavones and anthocyanins. Isoflavones are most commonly found in legumes such as soybeans and chickpeas. They have been found to slow cancer cell growth and inhibit enzyme systems in relation to malignant activity.
Black beans also have free radical fighting properties. They contain a mineral called selenium which is rare in most fruit and vegetables.
Selenium is known to have antioxidant abilities. Its significance in the body is explained in the scientific journal The Lancet:
“Selenium has structural and enzymic roles, in the latter context being best-known as an antioxidant and catalyst for the production of active thyroid hormone. Selenium is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system, and appears to be a key nutrient in counteracting the development of virulence and inhibiting HIV progression to AIDS. It is required for sperm motility and may reduce the risk of miscarriage.” (Rayman, 2000)
So black beans are definitely worth having in your regular diet.
Eating a variety of beans on a daily basis can be advantageous to people with diabetes or with a high risk of developing diabetes, and they’re especially helpful for people trying to lose weight. This is attributed to the low glycemic index meaning that they only cause a small rise in blood sugar levels after consumption.
Beans are easy to incorporate into many different meals such as stews or soups and are a great alternative to meat for vegetarians or vegans. As with everything, beans should be enjoyed in moderation.
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Next on our top antioxidant foods list is beetroot. Beetroots can provide us with a range of nutrients including potassium, iron and many antioxidants.
Betalain is one of the antioxidants found in beets and it is this compound which gives beets their deep purple colour. Betalain molecules have been associated with a lowered risk of colon cancer. Betalains are also known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
One study showed that when participants ingested betalain extract from beetroot, it provided increased protection against oxidative stress. Furthermore, in more recent studies betalain has been shown to slow growth on human cancer cells.
Beets also produce high levels of nitrous oxide. When we ingest the nitrates found in beets, our body converts them into nitrous oxide which in turn relaxes our blood vessels and lowers our blood pressure.
It should be noted that the effect beets have on blood pressure is limited to 2-4 hours post consumption thus long-term utilization would be needed.
Two more antioxidants in beets are known as Lutein and Zeaxanthin. These compounds mainly work by protecting our sight but they can also aid in protecting our skin from sun damage.
The effect that lutein and zeaxanthin may have on the skin and eyes can be attributed to the body's synthesis of these compounds as sometimes they can be converted into Vitamin A, a vitamin essential for eyesight and skin health.
There are no known side effects of consuming excess beets however over consumption may lead to discolored urine, but this is not known to be harmful.
Spinach belongs to the amaranth family, and it is no surprise that it's one of the most healthy antioxidant foods; it is a close relative of beetroots.
Spinach is a superb source of many nutrients including the antioxidants vitamins A and C: the vitamins essential for a healthy immune system and healthy eyesight.
Vitamin C has been the subject of many studies on antioxidants and their abilities. Vitamin C as an electron donor is an excellent antioxidant, effective at scavenging free radicals and preventing oxidative stress.
Additionally, moderate spinach consumption also provides protection from oxidative stress, which in turn suggests that it may provide some protection against chronic illness and even the signs of aging.
Eating spinach is an easy way to boost your diet, as it's easy to prepare and can be found in most UK supermarkets.
It can be argued that spinach is one of the top antioxidant foods for cancer, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses, as with numerous nutrients and antioxidants it should definitely be included in your regular diet.
Green and Black Tea
The main 2 types of tea we are going to discuss here are black tea and green tea, as they are foods with high antioxidant levels. Did you know, tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, losing out only to water? Due to this fact, tea and its health benefits have been widely studied.
Green tea originates from China and contains numerous nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, Theamine and Catechins. Green tea and black tea are both made from the same plant, however green tea does not go through the same processing as black tea.
Both teas generally contain the same health benefits for our body, and evidence on antioxidant activity has shown that no tea is better than the other. To learn more, check out our guide on the benefits, uses, and side effects of green tea!
Both teas contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which are effective at fighting oxidative stress.
Consumers should be careful as adding sugar and milk to tea could do more harm than good if consumed in large quantities.
Furthermore, consuming tea on a regular basis has shown to aid in the reduction of LDL cholesterol levels, improve our gut health and reduce blood pressure.
The flavonoids found in tea are similar to those in red wine and chocolate. One particular flavonoid called catechin is primarily found in green tea. A catechin compound known as Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is what gives tea its medicinal benefits.
It is this flavonoid which is responsible for tackling the free radicals in the body and it may also have an effect on inflammation. This particular substance can also be found in most fruits and nuts.
Aside from the antioxidant properties in tea, they also contain brain-stimulating caffeine. Many researchers actually consider caffeine an antioxidant due to the way it can support healthy brain function.
There are many different types of tea on the market from flavored tea, herbal tea and regular black tea.
It should be noted however that many companies sell ‘fat-burning’ teas, but just drinking tea is not going to magically reduce our body fat percentages or burn off excess pounds.
Weight loss should be achieved through a calorie deficit and a healthy and balanced diet, including antioxidant-rich foods.
It is well known that salmon possesses superfood abilities, including being one of the most antioxidant-rich foods: it's also one of the best sources of fatty acid omega-3, but what you may not know is that salmon contains a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin. This is what gives salmon its pink colour.
Astaxanthin has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, reduce our LDL cholesterol and increase our HDL cholesterol.
It is also believed to work in conjunction with the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon to protect our nervous system from inflammation. Inflammation is needed in the body to help protect us from harm and heal us, however if it becomes chronic it can cause illness and pain.
If you don’t like fish then cod liver oil supplements can be an effective way to increase your omega-3 intake.
Salmon is loaded with selenium, a mineral and an antioxidant. Our bodies only require a trace amount of selenium to function and it is essential to protect our bone health and improve thyroid function.
Selenium acts as an antioxidant by fighting chronic illness causing damage to cells in the body and for this reason many studies have focused on the effect that selenium may have on cancerous cells.
It has been found that participants with selenium rich diets had a 33% lower risk of developing bladder cancer compared to those on a low selenium diet.
The research on cancer prevention by means of selenium supplementation has mainly been studied on animals and in test tubes therefore it should be taken with a pinch of salt as more evidence would be needed to conclude the effect it has on humans.
Broccoli is a high flyer in the field of nutrition. Promoting digestive health, a healthy immune system and being low in calories, it's no wonder we have included it on our list of super antioxidant foods.
Broccoli ranks as one of the vegetables with the highest Vitamin C concentrations and as we have previously discussed Vitamin C is classed as an important antioxidant.
One portion of broccoli (around 100g) contains roughly all of the recommended daily Vitamin C intake.
Vitamin C has many different functions in the body, from wound healing to aiding in the absorption of iron. Our bodies are unable to produce Vitamin C alone, and a deficiency in this essential nutrient can lead to a number of illnesses, such as scurvy.
It is imperative that we intake the right amount from our daily diet, with the recommended daily amount being roughly 40mg of vitamin C.
Broccoli is also a good source of the antioxidant Lutein. Lutein is closely related to Vitamin A and aids in protecting our eyesight.
Broccoli can be eaten cooked or raw: however due to the water-soluble Vitamin C content in broccoli, if boiled then the antioxidant availability may be drastically lowered.
Although the most abundant antioxidant in broccoli is Vitamin C, it actually contains a whole range of other antioxidants. These include but are not limited to Indole-3-Carbinol, kaempferol and quercetin.
Indole-3-Carbinol (Indole for short) can be found in broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts. It is most commonly studied for its cancer fighting abilities. In the present day, Indole is mainly studied in rats, so it cannot be suggested that the same cancer fighting abilities will apply until studies on humans are conducted.
Kaempferol is another antioxidant found in broccoli and is a member of the flavonoid family. This flavonoid may be preventative against cancer mainly due to its anti-inflammatory effects combined with antioxidant properties and is considered to be a starting point for research into cancer prevention and chronic illness prevention.
However, the bioavailability of kaempferol in the body is under investigation as it is thought to be limited although more research of this topic is needed.
Along with being one of the natural antioxidant foods that fight cancer, broccoli comes in at only 30 calories per serving so is great for anyone looking to lose weight and boost their antioxidant levels.
Potatoes are usually considered as the enemy due to their high carbohydrate content however this misunderstood vegetable actually contains a wide range of antioxidants, including vitamin C, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.
Unlike most of the other items on our list of highest antioxidant foods, the antioxidant count of potatoes can vary widely. This depends on what potato you choose, how they are prepared, and the age of the potato.
It is no surprise then that the more colour a potato has, for example purple potatoes, the more antioxidants it contains. The anthocyanins antioxidants are primarily responsible for this.
Furthermore, some potatoes can have up to ten times more antioxidants in the skin than the flesh, but also vice versa depending on potato variety.
Potatoes are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, and minerals, copper and magnesium, however due to the water-soluble nature of Vitamin C; boiling potatoes may not be the best preparation method over steaming and baking.
Most people often assume sweet potatoes are healthier than regular potatoes but they are actually both equally nutritious. Sweet potatoes contain more vitamin A but white potatoes contain more potassium, so it is naturally up to the consumer on which potato they choose to add into their diet.
A study in the journal Nutr Cancer found that the antioxidants present in potatoes have the ability to slow the growth of cancer cells in both the liver and the colon, with the Mexican wild species of potato S. pinnatisectum being the most prolific.
The healthiest way to consume potatoes is baking them; they can easily be filled or topped with other antioxidant rich foods.
Eat a wide variety of coloured potatoes to achieve the best health benefits.
The majority of berries are antioxidant high foods, yet strawberries have some of the highest antioxidant levels as well as a number of other huge benefits.
Adults in the UK are advised to consume at least 40mg of Vitamin C per day and just 1 serving of strawberries can contain a whopping 89mg. So, adding a simple serving to your daily diet is an easy way to boost your Vitamin C intake.
As previously discussed, Vitamin C is needed in our body to help support a healthy immune system and is one of the many antioxidants in strawberries. Vitamin C can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases and heart problems.
Anthocyanins are another antioxidant found in these sweet berries. They are mostly found in colorful fruit and vegetables which means strawberries are packed full of them. These antioxidants have been rigorously studied for their relation to heart health and blood vessels.
Phenolic antioxidants such as ellagitannins and ellagic acid are also present in strawberries. The significance of ellagic acid is explained in the Journal of Food Biochemistry:
“Ellagic acid has been shown to be a potent anticarcinogenic agent, and one of the main mechanisms by which ellagic acid is proposed to have anticancer benefits is by modulating the metabolism of environmental toxins and therefore preventing the initiation of carcinogenesis induced by these chemicals. It is also proposed to have antimutagenic activity by inhibiting the direct binding of these carcinogens to the DNA.” (Vattem and Shetty, 2005)
The main function of these particular compounds is to lower the risk or prevent cancerous cell growth.
Not only is this one of the very powerful antioxidant foods, but strawberries are also low-calorie, fat free, and full of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and definitely worth adding to your regular diet!
Oats are one of the best grains and best antioxidant rich foods you can eat, and they are extremely popular among the fitness community.
Not only are they suitable for people suffering from coeliac disease, they also provide a wide array of nutrients such as fibre, antioxidants and protein.
The mineral zinc is classed as being from the antioxidant family and one serving of oats can provide almost our daily needs for this mineral.
In the body zinc acts similarly to vitamin C in fighting off infections and supporting our immune system.
Additionally, it also helps make protein and DNA cells which is particularly important in pregnancy and early years. Zinc has been found to decrease oxidative stress in the body which causes the growth of unwanted free radicals, and ultimately causes damage to the body.
Avenanthramides are another group of antioxidants and they are only found in oats. The main activity of avenanthramides in our body is to lower our blood pressure.
When we digest oats, this compound allows our body to produce nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide relaxes our blood vessel walls allowing an increase in blood flow and reducing our blood pressure.
Oats should definitely be added to your diet as they have impressive blood pressure reducing abilities, can increase our satiety levels leaving us fuller for longer and the fibre can help reduce cholesterol levels.
Oats are antioxidant enriched foods that can easily be part of a healthy breakfast, such as porridge, or even mixed into a smoothie with berries. They are usually one of the main ingredients in the best healthiest cereal bars available on the market too.
We’ve talked a lot about the importance of vitamin C and it’s antioxidant foods benefits, so it stands to reason that oranges would easily make our list.
Not only does one fruit contain roughly the complete amount of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, but oranges are also a great source of antioxidants known as phenolics and carotenoids.
The phenolics are the main compound which attributes to the superfood status of oranges. Hesperidin (belonging to the phenolic family) is a flavonoid which has multiple health benefits including boosting our heart health.
“Based on the within-group analysis, hesperidin led to significant decrease in serum levels of glucose, insulin, triglyceride, total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, TNF-α and hs-CRP, while in control group only glucose and insulin significantly decreased.”(Yari et al., 2019)
The carotenoids in oranges are known as beta-cryptoxanthin and lycopene.
Beta-cryptoxanthin is actually converted into retinol in the body, which is more commonly known as Vitamin A.
Lycopene has been found to have anti-carcinogenic properties. A longitudinal study on over 46,000 men showed that when consuming Lycopene from rich dietary sources (such as tomato sauce) bi-weekly, they had a 30% less chance of developing prostate cancer. It has also shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
It should be taken into consideration that many orange juices may contain high sugar quantities, so look out for added sugar on the packaging.
Orange juice is a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, but consuming a fresh orange is the better option when looking for the best antioxidant foods for cancer.
Did you know that one of the health benefits of milk thistle is that it can improve cancer treatments?
There are hundreds of varieties of this small stoned fruit but the most common ones are either sweet cherries or tart cherries, and they are antioxidant superfoods.
Cherries are highly nutritious, packing a high fibre content as well as multiple vitamins and minerals.
Cherries are a rich source of antioxidants called polyphenols. Polyphenols are associated with improving heart health, reducing our blood sugar levels and supporting our immune system.
There have been numerous studies into the efficacy of cherries’ antioxidant properties, with one literature review stating:
“Consumption of cherries decreased markers for oxidative stress in 8/10 studies; inflammation in 11/16; exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength in 8/9; blood pressure in 5/7; arthritis in 5/5, and improved sleep in 4/4.” (Kelley, Adkins and Laugero, 2018)
Not only can cherries reduce oxidative stress but they can also have a positive effect on muscle soreness, which means natural antioxidant foods that can aid your post-workout recovery without adding on too many calories.
Furthermore the polyphenols found in cherries can contribute to heart health by destroying any cell damaging free radicals.
If you struggle getting the right quantity and quality of sleep then you could need a boost in the hormone melatonin. Melatonin works as an antioxidant by scavenging reactive oxygen and damaging free radicals, but mainly aids in regulating sleep cycles.
Drinking cherry juice on a daily basis helps improve both sleep duration and sleep quality.
Cherries can be easily added in the diet by either eating alone as a sweet snack or added into a delicious smoothie. What's more they are readily available as one of the most powerful antioxidant foods in the UK.
Check out OriGym’s top 23 superfruits to find out which others you should be adding to your diet.
Another highly nutritious vegetable that has made our high antioxidant foods list is the leafy green Kale.
Kale is a member of the cabbage family and there are many different varieties: the most common type of kale is known as curly kale and just one serving contains all our daily needs of Vitamin A, K and C.
As with other leafy green vegetables, kale is packed with antioxidants such as quercetin and kaempferol.
Both of these help in the extraction of free radicals in our body and reduce our risk of chronic illnesses.
Quercetin has the ability to lower blood pressure and kaempferol has been shown to produce interference in cancerous cell pathways.
Similarly to the majority of the highest antioxidant foods on our list, kale is a great source of Vitamin C: it’s so good in fact that kale is actually one of the best sources in the world, with one serving of kale containing more Vitamin C than a whole orange.
Kale is also proven to lower cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is needed in the body to produce bile (which is needed to digest fatty foods) however an abundance of cholesterol puts immense pressure on our hearts.
Substances called bile acid sequestrants bind to our bile to prevent it from being absorbed into the bloodstream after being used. Kale is a great natural source of these sequestrants which reduce the amount of cholesterol being absorbed into our bodies.
The antioxidant Indole-3-Carbinol (which we discussed with broccoli) is also found in kale and can protect against cancerous cell growth.
Finally, kale contains a substance known as beta-carotene which our bodies convert into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is needed to protect our vision and support healthy skin, with kale being a great source.
Kale is not only one of the best antioxidant foods for skin and eye health, but will also provide a nutritious and healthy boost to your salads and smoothies.
Many people won’t think of brussel sprouts when wondering what foods have the highest antioxidant levels, but they are powerhouses in both antioxidants and nutrition.
Filled with multiple nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, fibre and many antioxidants.
Kaempferol is the prominent antioxidant in sprouts and is also found in spinach, kale and tomatoes. Kaempferol has links to many chronic illnesses due to its free radical fighting properties.
Sprouts also contain alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) which is classed as an antioxidant known for the benefits it presents to diabetics, especially for diabetic neuropathy.
ALA actually has the functions to regenerate other antioxidants within the body, and having ALA in our regular diet allows our bodies to reuse these other antioxidants.
It has also shown to enhance glucose uptake and slow the growth of diabetes related illnesses.
Diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, which is when our bodies have such low insulin sensitivity levels that their blood sugar levels cannot be maintained within safe levels, leading them to rise and cause additional damage. .
Furthermore, one serving of brussel sprouts can provide us with up to 81% of our daily vitamin C needs.
Frying or steaming sprouts has been shown to enhance their antioxidant and vitamin content as boiling may reduce the availability of the water-soluble vitamins.
Aubergines are a dark purple fruit full of nutrients and easily classed as one of the top antioxidant rich foods, and whilst we’re talking about its antioxidant properties here you can find some more information in our article on the other health benefits of eggplants, or aubergines.
The main health benefits we gain from consuming aubergines come from their antioxidant activity. Nasunin, from the anthocyanin family, is the antioxidant found in aubergines and it is this that gives them their purple colour. Most research around the vegetable focuses on this antioxidant.
Nasunin works by clearing any build up in our blood vessels, in turn keeping our heart healthy. It also aids in brain function and removes any excess iron from the body.
Anthocyanins from Chinese eggplants have been found to have a positive effect on colon cancer symptoms and help protect cells from DNA damage.
Due to the high antioxidant concentrations in aubergines, they are said to provide protection against heart disease, however research has not yet progressed to human trials so scientific evidence of this is currently lacking.
Aubergines are a versatile addition to this high antioxidant foods list and worth adding to your weekly shopping list.
The health and fitness industry was one of the first to highlight the good fats and low carbohydrates contained in one of the most antioxidant rich foods available, the avocado.
These small green fruits contain the antioxidants Lutein and Zeaxanthin which are essential to healthy eyesight.
The healthy fats found in avocados are a great way of boosting our absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and antioxidants.
Glutathione is one of the most effective antioxidants and can be made by the body naturally.
Studies have linked high glutathione levels to a lowered risk of some cancers. Avocados are the second highest antioxidant foods (for glutathione), with asparagus taking first place.
Avocados are one of the rare foods that contain high levels of both Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Fortunately, these vitamins work in conjunction together.
Vitamin C plays an important role in regenerating Vitamin E once it has bonded with free radicals, and Vitamin E is needed to maintain a healthy immune system, so together, they are an antioxidant dream team!
It should be noted that Vitamin E can be stored in the body if not needed so it is not essential that we consume Vitamin E on a daily basis.
The nutritional profile of the avocado is impressive, containing nutrients such as:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B-6
Alongside these nutrients, they contain good amounts of fibre and healthy fats, making the avocado one of the best antioxidant rich foods that you should definitely be including in your regular diet.
Seaweed is another one of the top antioxidant enriched foods; there are a few different types and colours, with many containing high levels of essential nutrients.
Seaweed is most commonly used in Asian cuisines but has recently gained popularity all over the world due to its superfood label.
It boasts high concentrations of antioxidants including vitamins A, C and E, as well as flavonoids and carotenoids.
The most studied antioxidant in brown seaweed is called fucoxanthin and belongs to the carotenoid group. It has many functions within the body, including scavenging free radicals, increasing the metabolism, and lowering blood pressure.
It also aids in reducing blood sugar levels. A comprehensive literature review on various research into fucoxanthin stated:
“Saturated fat intake can elevate the HbA1c level. The HbA1c level is a risk indicator of glycemia and diabetic complications. The study of Woo et al. suggested that supplementation of 0.05% and 0.2% fucoxanthin significantly reduced the blood HbA1c and plasma insulin level compared with the control group.” (Zhang et al., 2015)
Basically, fucoxanthin helps reduce the risk of complications associated with uncontrolled diabetes.
If you want to learn about managing diabetes, check out OriGym’s Level 4 Obesity Control And Weight Management Course.
Overall, the physiological functions of fucoxanthin have the possibility to reduce the likelihood or prevent many chronic illnesses.
Seaweed also contains small amounts of the water-soluble vitamin C and due to this it should be prepared without water as to limit the decrease in these all important water-soluble vitamins.
Although seaweed is a great source of fucoxanthin, consumers should be aware of the higher iodine levels found in it.
High iodine levels have been associated with decreased thyroid function: however this is not a long term problem and can be counteracted by eating foods rich in goitrogens, such as broccoli.
Unfortunately, the taste and texture of seaweed can be off-putting to some. If you find these rich antioxidant foods unappealing then there are supplements available instead.
Don't forget to download your FREE food diary!
Used by Fitness Professionals
Download your FREE Food Diary
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For hundreds of years ginger has been known for its medicinal effects: in ancient China the ginger root was often used to treat multiple ailments and diseases. It would come as no surprise then that ginger has made it onto this list of high antioxidant foods.
The compound gingerol can be thanked for this spice's antioxidant superfood status. Gingerol has been proven to reduce oxidative stress in the body and therefore is classed as an antioxidant.
Gingerol is known for its ability to fight cancer cells.
There have been many academic studies into this ability of gingerol; a 2013 literature review concluded that, after researching a significant number of studies, one of the most effective antioxidant foods for cancer was indeed ginger.
Gingerol is in its highest concentration in raw ginger so it could be suggested that to receive the most benefit it should be eaten raw or only lightly cooked.
Gingerol also has anti–inflammatory effects, which being combined with its antioxidant properties means that it may have benefits on brain function and reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Ginger also contains vitamin C and A, however these vitamins are only present in trace amounts which wouldn't be enough for a significant effect on the body.
Not only is ginger one of the healthy antioxidant foods, but it is also useful in relieving nausea, menstrual pain and can aid digestion.
Walnuts and Almonds
It is well-known that nuts often provide a healthy snack, but some are actually natural foods that are antioxidant rich, such as walnuts and almonds.
Walnuts have a higher antioxidant content than all other nuts. This is due to the high levels of Vitamin E, melatonin and polyphenols found in walnuts.
The polyphenols in walnuts are known as ellagitannins. In our gut, ellagitannins are converted into compounds known as urolithins which reduce inflammation, a key factor in many chronic illnesses.
Urolithins block hormone receptors and it's for this reason it's believed that walnuts may decrease our risk of hormone related cancers, for example breast cancer.
Compared to all other nuts, black walnuts contain the highest amount of the Vitamin E compound known as gamma-tocopherol and it is this that has been shown to be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease and decreasing the likelihood of developing cancer.
Almonds are an extremely nutrient dense nut and one serving contains almost 37% of our Vitamin E needs.
The antioxidants in almonds come from the brown outer layer (white blanched almonds are therefore not classed as high antioxidant foods as much as other almonds).
Eating almonds has been linked to having significantly decreased levels of biomarkers which cause oxidative stress, and it is the vitamin E levels in almonds are what has propelled them to antioxidant superfood status.
Vitamin E helps us maintain healthy skin and eyesight, and works with vitamin C in protecting our immune system. Vitamin E has also been involved in dilating blood vessels and lowering blood pressure.
Although walnuts have been proved to have a higher antioxidant concentration than all other nuts, almonds have high Vitamin E levels.
It's difficult to determine which nut would be more beneficial to your diet so adding both to your diet will give variety and boost your antioxidant levels.
For more healthful nuts, take a look at our guide on the 11 healthiest nuts for your diet.
Cloves are a versatile spice added to food and drink to create a warm, sweet flavour, and they’re also rich antioxidant foods.
They have been used as a traditional medicine for hundreds of years, usually to reduce pain in the gums and mouth. This is due to the numbing properties it produces which can be attributed to a compound known as Eugenol.
Eugenol has been subject to numerous studies to look at its antioxidant activity and the effect it may have on cancers, with some claiming that it is a stronger antioxidant than vitamin E.
Eugenol has also been shown to improve bone health, which may reduce our risk of chronic disease such as arthritis. This is also due to the manganese content of cloves.
Evidence has also shown that consuming cloves as part of a balanced diet may help regulate blood sugar levels.
Insulin is the integral hormone needed to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and cloves have been found to increase insulin secretion, resulting in better balance.
For such a small spice, the amount of antioxidant foods benefits within them is incredible! Plus, the sweet and warm taste is another added bonus.
By now it will come as no surprise that the colourful red cabbage is also an antioxidant rich food since we’ve learnt that antioxidants often give the purple and red colours to fruit and vegetables.
Red cabbage is closely related to broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts, all of which are included on this high antioxidant foods list!
If you like cabbage then switching to the more nutritious red cabbage will be more beneficial, and they taste almost the same.
Red cabbage is low in calories, high in fibre and contains vitamins A, C and K. The antioxidants found in red cabbage are carotenoids, anthocyanins and kaempferol.
The anthocyanins found in red cabbage are responsible for giving it the unmistakable red/purple colour.
Carotenoids are primarily responsible for eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin promote retina health and produce anti-inflammatory properties which are associated with reduced risk of diseases, such as glaucoma.
The carotenoids have specifically been correlated with a lower risk of lung cancer and skin cancer and this may be due to the metabolism of carotenoids into vitamin A, the vitamin responsible for skin health.
One study of carotenoids states that:
“Interventional studies in humans with carotenoid-rich diet have shown its photoprotective effects on the skin (mostly by decreasing the sensitivity to UVR-induced erythema) and its beneficial effects in prevention and improvement of skin aging (improved skin elasticity and hydration, skin texture, wrinkles, and age spots).” (Balić and Mokos, 2019)
The bottom line is that a simple swap from green to red cabbage will provide great antioxidant rich foods for skin health, which can ultimately help reduce the risk of a number of diseases and conditions.
Garlic is one of the oldest crops in the world, dating back thousands of years. It was once even used by the ancient Egyptians to cure arthritis, insect bites and even snake bites.
Today garlic is widely consumed in a variety of cuisine; however many people are unaware of all of the antioxidant benefits of this popular ingredient.
The majority of advantages we gain from garlic come from the compound allicin, which is released when garlic is crushed or chopped.
Allicin is most commonly referred to as an amino acid however it also has antioxidant properties.
Our guide on the benefits, structure, and food sources of amino acids can help you learn all you need to know about this important chemical compound.
Allicin has been at the forefront of many studies regarding the effect it has on diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and it has been proven to have positive effects on all of these conditions.
Other compounds found in garlic are diallyl disulfide and s-allyl cysteine.
Diallyl disulfide is predominantly found in garlic and has shown detoxifying abilities, thus its role in cancer treatments may be beneficial.
S-allyl cysteine is more prominent in black garlic rather than white; it works as a sulphur compound by directly scavenging free radicals. It also works indirectly as increasing another antioxidant found in the body, superoxide dismutase.
Black garlic has a few different benefits to the normal white garlic. It’s simply white garlic which has aged and been left to ferment, which causes the deep brown colour.
Once it has fermented the flavour profile completely changes, producing a sweeter and more nutty flavour.
Not only does black garlic taste different but composition of the nutrients found within it also changes. While black garlic contains more calories and carbohydrates, white garlic is more nutritional in the sense of containing more calcium and potassium.
Overall, black garlic is one of the highest antioxidant foods but either type will provide these great antioxidant properties, as well as other nutrients and the beloved taste.
This list of good antioxidant foods wouldn’t be complete without the addition of a much-loved beverage, coffee.
Coffee has undergone a vast amount of research, with investigations into the side effects as well as potential benefits. However, recent research has actually proven that coffee has more antioxidants than a cup of black tea.
Hydroxycinnamic acid (HCA) is one of the antioxidants found in coffee.
It displays multiple effects, including anti-inflammatory properties, antimicrobial abilities, and protection against UV rays.
HCA actually possesses anticancer abilities, particularly when studied in conjunction with pancreatic cancer. This is mainly attributed to the effectiveness that HCA has on reducing oxidative stress.
Surprisingly caffeine has also been considered to be an antioxidant.
One scientific investigation found that:
“In general, the antioxidant ability of caffeine was similar to that of the established biological antioxidant glutathione and significantly higher than ascorbic acid.” (Devasagayam et al, 1996)
The fact that caffeine is a stronger antioxidant than vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is surprising, yet also beneficial as many people enjoy coffee or caffeinated drinks on a regular basis.
Additionally, coffee is also effective at protecting against heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
This is due to the high number of polyphenols found in coffee.
Coffee is classed as one of the foods with highest antioxidant levels, and most people will more than likely get a lot of antioxidants from this beverage. Plus, those on the keto diet can still drink coffee - check out OriGym’s guide on keto drinks for some more drink ideas!
Antioxidant Foods: How They Work
As we know by now, antioxidants are key to removing free radicals from the body and reducing the damage of oxidative stress. But how exactly do they do this?
Free radicals, also known as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), are molecules that are missing electrons which make them unstable. Antioxidants counteract these molecules by giving them some of their own electrons, thereby stabilising them.
The process is the same for an antioxidant in foods.
In terms of antioxidant foods and cancer, free radicals are directly linked. When free radicals damage DNA it can cause mutations in genes: tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes are the 2 main types of genes involved in cancer growth.
Tumor suppressor genes are needed to produce proteins within the body that in turn repair damaged cells or remove them: mutations of these genes mean cells and DNA won’t be repaired as efficiently.
Oncogenes produce the proteins that are needed for cell growth: mutations in this gene result in the interminable production of oncogenes, so cells are continuously growing.
Cancer is usually a result of mutations in both of these genes, with damaged cells remaining within the body whilst being encouraged to grow.
Antioxidants have some scientific backing showing that they have anticancer properties.
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What Are The Best Antioxidant Foods?
All of the items on this list are good antioxidant foods, and obviously due to people’s tastes and preferences it’s difficult to label any as ‘the best’.
However, the antioxidant best foods include more than just antioxidants! Try choosing one with dense nutritional profiles that include vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and more, as these will give you much more of a health boost.
Additionally, it’s worth incorporating multiple sources of antioxidants into your diet in order to get a good variety, as there are a number of different antioxidants found in different foods.
So, which items on our top antioxidant foods list surprised you the most? From the numerous benefits of artichokes to the sweet and healthy attributes of chocolate, there is an antioxidant source for every diet.
Antioxidant supplements are also available if you prefer to know exactly how much you’re consuming each day.
If learning about health and nutrition interests you, then perhaps studying our level 4 advanced sports nutrition course will interest you too! Download our free course prospectus for more information.
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