Antioxidant Foods: Boost Your Health With These Powerful Nutrients

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    Keep your free radicals in check with an abundance of healthy, nutritious, antioxidant-rich foods. You might be surprised at the bounty of tasty options.

    Free Radicals and Antioxidants

    Everybody has a mix of free radicals and antioxidants in their body at all times. While there are some antioxidants made by the body, most of them must come from a healthy diet that includes antioxidant-rich foods. Free radicals are made by the body as a normal part of metabolism, and also in response to pollutants, toxins, cigarette smoke, alcohol intake, sun exposure, intense prolonged exercise, too much or too little oxygen in the body, excessive intake of antioxidants, or antioxidant deficiency.

    The goal is to maintain a healthy balance of both free radicals and antioxidants. When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, it can lead to oxidative stress. While free radicals have a limited lifespan of a fraction of a second, they can damage or mutate cells, break down tissues, accelerate aging, overload the immune system, and damage DNA. A prolonged state of oxidative stress could potentially lead to serious challenges.

    Antioxidants are highly effective at neutralizing free radicals. There is not one specific compound that constitutes an antioxidant; rather, they are found in the foods that we eat and in numerous vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. Given the myriad packaged and processed foods that people currently enjoy, as well as the exposure to pollutants, cigarettes, alcohol, and stress of everyday life, it’s important to eat a diet rich in antioxidant foods. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to easily up the antioxidants and make them taste good too.

    Exploring Different Antioxidants

    Vitamin C

    Vitamin C is a popular vitamin that can be found in most citrus fruits, strawberries, avocados, Bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes (with skin), broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cantaloupe. It is also available in supplement form. Since it’s water-soluble, any excess in your body will be excreted on a daily basis by the body’s urine. Care/of has a premium vitamin C made from acerola cherry extract and bioflavonoids, The Citrus Savior, that can give you 278% of the daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA).

    Vitamin E

    Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be found in spinach, broccoli, kiwifruit, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, beet greens, collard greens, soybeans, and many fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin E deficiency is rare.

    Beta Carotene

    Carotenoids are among the strongest of all of the antioxidants. Beta carotene can be found in the orange, yellow, and green leafy fruits and vegetables. Enjoy all the lettuce, tomato, broccoli, sweet potato, winter squash, and cantaloupe you want, they’re really good for you. Care/of also has a carotenoid called Astaxanthin with powerful antioxidant properties available as a supplement to support your brain, heart, eyes, skin, and fitness goals.


    Selenium is a trace mineral that works as an antioxidant in the body. It is synergistic with vitamin E, meaning that the two work better together than separately. According to this study, it can be used to boost glutathione levels. One of the richest sources of selenium is Brazil nuts. Selenium is also found in shellfish, meats, eggs, mushrooms, asparagus, and spinach.


    Anthocyanins are a group of deep blue, red, and purple pigments found in plants. Being flavonoids, they have strong antioxidant properties. They can be found in dark plums, grapes, wine, red cabbage, red onions, cherries, purple cauliflower, and the skin of purple eggplant.


    There are more than 8,000 polyphenols and they are all powerful antioxidants that are believed to have other health benefits. This study contends that “polyphenols offer great hope for the prevention of chronic human disease.” Polyphenols can be found in blueberries, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, spinach, green or black tea, coffee, and chocolate.

    The Impact of Antioxidants on Health

    Enhancing Cardiovascular Health

    There is research that has shown that antioxidants may be beneficial for improving your heart health while managing oxidative stress. The antioxidants you get from eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and nuts are also a big part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise is also key to heart health.

    Strengthening Immune Function

    This report contends that antioxidants have a significant positive impact on the immune system. A healthy diet packed with nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats, and fish will provide your body with an array of beneficial antioxidants.

    Safeguarding Vision and Eye Health

    Antioxidant-rich nutrients such as lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins C and E, and zinc are believed to promote eye health by managing oxidative stress. Lutein and zeaxanthin are both found in the retina. With age, oxidative stress can increase and increase the potential for eye issues. These nutrients can be found in green leafy vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

    Minimizing Skin Aging Effects

    Nearly every skin product on the market boasts its impact on skin aging, which is often a direct result of its antioxidant properties. They can’t all be wrong.

    This study demonstrates that treatment with certain antioxidants, such as ascorbic acid, tocopherols, and polyphenols, should be effective in promoting skin health by combating oxidative stress.

    According to this study, a wide variety of antioxidants or other phytochemicals have been reported to possess substantial skin photoprotective effects.

    Promoting Brain Health

    Antioxidants are believed to promote overall cognitive health, while helping to manage oxidative stress.

    This abstract offers new and encouraging insights into the effect of dietary antioxidants on brain health, though it contends that further research is needed to confirm and improve the understanding of their impact relative to mental health benefits.

    This study found that increased free radicals play a central role in neurological health by managing the balance of pro-oxidant and antioxidant agents in the brain. It cites the importance of targeting antioxidant systems to counteract the oxidative stress and maintaining brain health.

    Top Nutrient-Packed Antioxidant Foods

    Berries (Blueberries, Strawberries, Goji Berries, Raspberries)

    Aside from pomegranate, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and goji berries have the highest antioxidant activity of all fruits consumed. They’re also delicious and versatile and have many health benefits.

    Dark Chocolate

    Dark chocolate has more antioxidant properties than most foods, and it contains fiber and many beneficial minerals. Choose the 70% or higher cocoa content and remember that it does contain some sugar.

    Nuts (Pecans)

    The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirms that pecans are the most antioxidant-rich tree nut and are among the top category of foods to contain the highest ORAC value also referred to as the antioxidant capacity. They also make a great pie! Walnuts are a close second in regards to ORAC value.

    Seeds (Pumpkin Seeds, Chia Seeds)

    Pumpkin and chia seeds are both packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are also a great source of fiber.

    Beans and Legumes

    Beans and legumes are rich in antioxidants that help manage oxidative stress. They are also rich in fiber and other beneficial nutrients.


    Artichokes contain the highest level of antioxidants of any vegetable. They are also loaded with nutrients and fiber.

    Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale)

    Kale is considered one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables due to its high level of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Spinach, also one of the most antioxidant-rich leafy greens, is also a popular, versatile green.

    Red Cabbage

    Red Cabbage is an excellent source of antioxidants, as it contains anthocyanins that promote a healthy immune system. Cabbage can also be fermented and turned into sauerkraut, a probiotic rich food that aids in gut health. Phenolic compounds and flavonoids (which act like antioxidants) are released by the fermentation process.


    Beets contain betalains, a powerful antioxidant that gives beets their color. The leaves and roots are also nutrient-rich with strong antioxidant properties and many potential health benefits.

    Orange Vegetables (Sweet Potatoes)

    Sweet potatoes are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, a carotenoid believed to contain eye health benefits. The orange vegetable is also packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.


    Apples are a rich source of polyphenols, including vitamins E and C, and are high in fiber. Much of the apple’s nutrient density is found in its skin. If you peel it then eat, you significantly reduce its potential health benefits – and taste.

    Integrating Antioxidant-Rich Foods into Your Daily Meals

    Meal Planning Strategies

    The best way to ensure adequate amounts of a variety of antioxidants in your diet is to consume an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, 5 to 8 servings, each day. Nuts, seeds, and legumes also make a great addition to your diet.

    Flavorful Antioxidant-Loaded Recipes

    Time to put your creativity to work. The possibilities are seemingly endless given the number of foods that are antioxidant-rich. There’s roasted artichoke hearts, chili, turkey chili, spinach salad with pomegranate dressing, beet, orange and walnut salad, white bean soup, lentil soup, and, for your sweet tooth, goji berry, almond, and dark chocolate bark.

    Recognizing Potential Antioxidant Hazards

    Risks of Excessive Antioxidant Intake

    More is not always better. The key is focusing on eating a diet rich in food based antioxidants and using supplements to bridge any potential nutrient gaps. Antioxidant supplements should not replace the foundational habits needed to live a balanced lifestyle that consists of a healthy nutrient dense diet, adequate sleep, stress management, hydration, and exercise. It is important to monitor your intake, and if you are concerned about excessive intake, consult your physician or a registered dietician.

    Medication Interaction Concerns

    If you are taking any medication on a regular basis, consult your physician before you make any changes to your protocol. Potential interactions can occur with a number of prescription drugs, but your doctor or pharmacist can give you information on possible interactions. If you experience any serious symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

    Maintaining Optimal Antioxidant Levels

    Tips for storing and preparing antioxidant-rich foods

    Some antioxidant foods are especially prone to nutrient loss with cooking. Cooking on a griddle is the least impactful method, followed by a microwave, and then followed by frying. Boiling and using a pressure cooker are the two worst methods to prepare antioxidant-rich foods.

    The Bottom Line

    The best way to ensure that you are getting plenty of antioxidant-rich foods is to include at least 5 to 8 servings of fresh, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables per day. Eating the rainbow, meaning fresh foods of every color, should provide you with all the antioxidants you need to keep oxidative stress at bay. If you are still concerned, consult your physician or registered dietician about the best diet and supplement protocol to ensure your needs are met.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Our Editorial Staff
    Freelance Contributor
    The Care/of Editorial Team is made up of writers, experts, and health enthusiasts, all dedicated to giving you the information you need today. Our team is here to answer your biggest wellness questions, read the studies for you, and introduce you to your new favorite product, staying up to date on the latest research, trends, and science. Each article is written by one of our experts, reviewed both for editorial standards by an editor and medical standards by one of our naturopathic doctors, and updated regularly as new information becomes available.