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What Foods Have the Highest Antioxidants? 30 Top Healthy Foods

Reviewed on 7/13/2020

What Are Antioxidants?

Pomegranate
Pomegranate - 9 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving

Antioxidants are substances both produced by the body and found in foods that help protect cells from damage. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can yield free radicals, which are harmful molecules that can damage the body if levels become too high. High levels of free radicals cause oxidative stress, which can increase the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

What Are the Health Benefits of Antioxidants?

Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help fight oxidative stress and reduce the risk of developing certain diseases. 

Antioxidant nutrients include vitamins A, C, E, selenium, and carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. Many foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, contain these vitamins and have antioxidant properties.

What Foods Have the Highest Antioxidants?

Researchers at the University of Oslo studied foods to determine which ones have the highest concentration of antioxidants and published results in the Nutrition Journal. They found the most antioxidant-rich foods included spices and herbs. Other foods high in antioxidants include fruits and berries, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even chocolate

30 Foods with high antioxidant values include:

  • Spices and herbs (ground, dried)
    • Green mint – 142.6 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving 
    • Cinnamon – 139.9 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving 
    • Cloves – 125.6 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Allspice – 101.5 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Oregano – 72.8 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving 
    • Basil – 28.1 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
  • Fruits 
    • Plums – 3.2 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Pomegranate – 9 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Dried fruits have higher antioxidant levels than fresh fruits, but they are also higher in calories 
  • Berries
    • Blackberries contain the most antioxidants of all berries
    • Blueberries - 9.2 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Goji berries – 4.3 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Raspberries – 4 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Strawberries – 2.1 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Cranberries – 3.3 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
  • Vegetables 
    • Artichoke – 4.7 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Kale – 2.7 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Cauliflower – 3.5 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Red cabbage – 2.2 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Orange bell pepper – 1.9 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving 
    • Beets – 1.7 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Sundries tomatoes – 1.3 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
  • Nuts and seeds
    • Walnuts – 21.9 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Pecans – 8.5 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Pistachios – 4.9 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Chestnuts – 4.7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Nuts and seeds are also high in calories, so moderate your portions
    • Sesame seeds – 1.2 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Flaxseed, ground – 1.1 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
  • Beans – 2.2 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving 
  • Chocolate
    • Choose dark chocolate, which has up to 15 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
  • Coffee - 2.5 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving
    • Has more antioxidants than green tea which has 1.5 mmol antioxidants per 3.5 ounces serving

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Are There Benefits of Antioxidant Supplements?

Foods are the best sources to get the antioxidants needed in the diet and there are no problems with the safety of antioxidants obtained from food sources.

There may be risks to antioxidant supplements, however, such as:

  • High-dose beta-carotene supplements have been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers 
  • High-dose vitamin E supplements have been linked to increased risks of hemorrhagic stroke and prostate cancer
  • Antioxidant supplements may interact with some medications
    • Vitamin E supplements may increase the risk of bleeding in people taking blood thinners (anticoagulants)
    • Some studies suggest taking antioxidant supplements during cancer treatment may be harmful. Consult your doctor before taking any supplements if you are undergoing cancer treatment.

Aside from possible side effects, increased risk for illness, and drug interactions, multiple studies have failed to show any substantial health benefits of taking antioxidant supplements. 

  • The Women’s Health Study found vitamin E supplements failed to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, age-related macular degeneration, or cataracts
  • The Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study found no beneficial effects of vitamin C, vitamin E, or beta-carotene supplements on cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular diseases) or the likelihood of developing diabetes or cancer. In this same study, antioxidant supplements did not slow cognitive function changes in women aged 65 or older.
  • The Physicians’ Health Study II found neither vitamin E nor C supplements reduced the risk of major cardiovascular events, cancer, or cataracts. Vitamin E supplements were associated with an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke in this study.
  • The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) found that selenium and vitamin E supplements did not prevent prostate cancer, and after follow-up, found vitamin E supplements actually increased the occurrence of prostate cancer by 17 percent in men who received the vitamin E supplement alone compared with those who received placebo. 

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Reviewed on 7/13/2020
References
Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841576/ https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth
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