Antioxidants are extremely popular for their health benefits. The word ‘antioxidants’ may sound familiar but their food sources are unknown to many.
There is a wide range of antioxidant-rich foods that help to eliminate free radicals and improve overall health.
What is an antioxidant?
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent certain types of cell damage. Damages to the cells in the body occur through chemicals called free radicals.
Free radicals are produced by the body as well as formed due to exposure to pollution, sunlight and cigarette smoke.
There exist components to guard us against free radicals. These protectors are known as ‘antioxidants’.
Antioxidants are very much necessary for the overall health of a person. They are natural compounds found in some foods that help our bodies neutralise free radicals.
Sources of antioxidant
Antioxidants can be made up of hundreds to thousands of different substances. Vitamins C and E, selenium and carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin are well-known antioxidants.
Vitamin C is a powerful water-soluble antioxidant in humans. Vitamin C, as an antioxidant, protects cells from oxidative stress-induced cellular damage by scavenging reactive oxygen species.
The antioxidant role of vitamin C can neutralise free radical molecules, thereby damaging the extra cells.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects our cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, resulting in healthy skin.
It is a fat-soluble vitamin that comes in several forms, but the human body only uses alpha-tocopherol. Being an antioxidant is their primary function.
Carotenoids are pigments that play an important role in protecting plants from photooxidative processes. They are antioxidants that are fat-soluble.
Due to their antioxidant activity, carotenoids can help prevent the onset of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, etc.
An article from the molecules journal titled ‘Antioxidant Activity of β-Carotene Compounds in Different in Vitro Assays’ considers β-carotene to be the most abundant carotenoid in the human body.
Cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin are commonly found carotenoids in the human diet.
Selenium is found in selenoproteins and enzymes. These have antioxidant properties that help in the breakdown of peroxides, which can cause tissue and DNA damage. This results in inflammation and other health issues.
The ORAC score (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) or ORAC unit was developed by scientists at the National Institute of Health (NIH) to assess the antioxidant capacity of various foods.
For optimal health, the FDA recommends 3,000-5,000 ORAC rating foods per day. The requirement differs for athletes. The higher the score, the more potent the antioxidant power of the food.
12 healthy foods rich in antioxidants
The high antioxidant content of certain foods has got them the title ‘superfood’.
Gooseberries have high levels of antioxidant activity. The high concentration of phytochemicals helps protect against oxidative stress.
Some excellent antioxidants present in the Amla are vitamin C, flavonoids, tannins and phenolic compounds. This helps to reduce the effects of free radicals on the body.
It is an immune-boosting food holding other benefits like reducing cholesterol levels, aiding in weight loss, delaying ageing, preventing constipation and regulating blood sugar levels.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of gooseberry has an ORAC score of 3332.
- Energy: 23.6 Kcal
- CHO: 4.39 g
- Protein: 0.34 g
- Fat: 0.16 g
- Fibre: 7.75 g
- Ascorbic acid: 252 mg
- Potassium: 223 mg
Blueberries have the highest antioxidant levels of any commonly consumed fruit or vegetable. This is found through their ORAC score.
Blueberries have a high amount of phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring plant compounds such as ellagic acid and anthocyanidins.
They are high in anthocyanin, an antioxidant that helps lower the risk of cancer and chronic diseases. Blueberries are high in nutrients such as potassium, fibre and vitamins C and K.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of blueberry has an ORAC score of 4822.
- Energy: 57 Kcal
- CHO: 14 g
- Protein: 0.7 g
- Fat: 0.3 g
- Fibre: 2.4 g
- Potassium: 77 mg
Dark chocolates have phenolic antioxidants. The antioxidant activity is dominated by flavonoids such as procyanidins, catechin and epicatechin.
According to research, diets high in protective flavanols help improve vascular health by improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure and also by lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. They also render neuroprotective benefits.
The health benefits of dark chocolates are due to the presence of minerals such as magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and phosphorus.
These minerals help the body by providing immunity, improving bone health and contributing to better sleep quality.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of dark chocolate has an ORAC score of 20816.
- Energy: 598 Kcal
- CHO: 46 g
- Protein: 7.8 g
- Fat: 43 g
- Fibre: 11 g
- Potassium: 715 mg
- Iron: 12 mg
- Calcium: 73 mg
Strawberry, being a part of the berry family, ought to contain high natural antioxidants. They also have abundant vitamin C, potassium and fibre. This plays an important role in protecting human health.
Consuming strawberry regularly lowers blood pressure and improves heart health. They can also help with arthritis, gout, brain function and eye and skin health.
Strawberries may be beneficial for improving the immune system and reducing the signs of premature ageing due to their polyphenolic content.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of strawberry has an ORAC score of 4266.
- Energy: 24.6 Kcal
- CHO: 3.40 g
- Protein: 0.97 g
- Fat: 0.56 g
- Fibre: 2.5 g
- Ascorbic acid: 50.20 mg
- Folate: 8.91 µg
- Carotenoids: 218 µg
- Lutein: 19.3 µg
Broccoli is an edible green plant that belongs to the cabbage family. It is high in vitamin C, making it an excellent immune booster. Broccoli also contains flavonoids, which help in the efficient recycling of vitamin C.
Broccoli is one of the first vegetables that come to mind when we think of green vegetables to include in our diet.
Its potency as an antioxidant is owing to the presence of lutein and sulforaphane in addition to magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of broccoli has an ORAC score of 3083.
- Energy: 22 Kcal
- CHO: 2.9 g
- Protein: 3.2 g
- Fat: 0.5 g
- Fibre: 2.7 g
- Calcium: 108 mg
- Potassium: 196 mg
- Iron: 2.1 mg
Red cabbage is a hidden treasure. Not many of us know about the various benefits of this vegetable including its antioxidant properties that protect the body.
Lightly braising red cabbage releases beneficial carotenoids which is an anti-cancerous compound.
Red cabbage aid in the fight against inflammation and improve cardiovascular health.
Manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron are minerals found in red cabbage. It is also high in nutrients like dietary fibre, thiamin, folate, riboflavin and vitamins K and B6.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of boiled red cabbage has an ORAC score of 3145 while raw red cabbage has a value of 2496.
- Energy: 23.1 Kcal
- CHO: 3.54 g
- Protein: 1.39 g
- Fat: 0.21 g
- Fibre: 2.21 g
- Ascorbic acid: 43.49 mg
- Folate: 34.81 µg
- Phylloquinones: 117 µg
- Carotenoids: 339 µg
- β-Carotene: 31.17 µg
- Lutein: 44.5 µg
Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) are known for their high antioxidant levels. Being an antioxidant, raspberries help in the reduction of inflammation and premature ageing.
Their natural protective substances have also been linked to improved DNA repair and the inhibition of enzymes that cause arthritis pain.
These small berries are loaded with nutrients. Raspberries contain high levels of vitamin C, K, fibre and manganese.
They also provide vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, copper and potassium. Raspberries are also one of the fruits with the lowest sugar content. They also work to improve bone health.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of black raspberry has an ORAC score of 19220.
- Energy: 52 Kcal
- CHO: 12 g
- Protein: 1.2 g
- Fat: 0.7 g
- Fibre: 6.5 g
- Potassium: 151 mg
While berries and brightly coloured vegetables are lauded for their antioxidant content, beans are one of the true antioxidant powerhouses.
According to a study, beans are three of the top five antioxidant-rich foods, and small red beans have more antioxidant power than many other foods.
Beans contain a lot of polyphenols. They are also high in protein, fibre, iron, folate, magnesium and potassium with little or no fat or cholesterol.
Consuming beans may improve overall health and reduce the risk of developing certain diseases, such as heart disease, obesity and many types of cancer, due to their high concentration of healthy nutrients.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of kidney beans has an ORAC score of 8606 and pinto beans has a score of 8033.
Kidney beans has the following nutrients
- Energy: 299 Kcal
- CHO: 48.61 g
- Protein: 19.91 g
- Fat: 1.77 g
- Fibre: 16.57 g
- Folate: 316 µg
- Ergocalciferol: 26.73 µg
- Carotenoids: 103 µg
According to the ORAC test, prunes have twice the antioxidant content than other high-scoring fruits. Prunes are also referred to as plum.
Antioxidants in prunes include iron, manganese, phenol and vitamin A. Vitamin A has also been shown to have antioxidant activity which acts as a protection against many types of cancer.
Prunes are high in fibre, which has long been known to help reduce the risk of colorectal and breast cancer, in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, diverticular disease and Diabetes.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of prunes has an ORAC score of 8059.
- Energy: 56.8 Kcal
- CHO: 12.10 g
- Protein: 0.64 g
- Fat: 0.40 g
- Fibre: 2.07 g
- Carotenoids: 430 µg
Spinach is a superfood with many health beneficial components in them. It is high in the antioxidant lutein, which promotes eye health and lowers the risk of macular degeneration.
Spinach in any form benefits the health. According to research, eating cooked spinach results in significantly higher blood levels of beta-carotene, a vital antioxidant.
Oxalic acid, an organic compound found in spinach is present in raw spinach. Spinach works best for the skin, hair and eyesight.
Some of the nutrient content in spinach includes vitamins A, B, E, C and K, which help to improve skin texture and treat a variety of skin disorders.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of spinach has an ORAC score of 1513.
- Energy: 24.3 Kcal
- CHO: 2.05 g
- Protein: 2.14 g
- Fat: 0.63 g
- Fibre: 2.38 g
- Ascorbic acid: 30.28 mg
- Folate: 142 µg
- Phylloquinones: 325 µg
- Lutein: 3850 µg
- β-carotene: 2605 µg
- Carotenoids: 9553 µg
- Magnesium: 86.97 mg
Beetroot is a well-known antioxidant. Several in vitro studies have shown that betalain pigments in beetroot protect cellular components from oxidative damage.
The fact that beets have high health benefits is undeniable. They have iron, vitamin C, potassium and a good amount of dietary fibre.
Betanin is also anti-inflammatory, combating the inflammation associated with various lifestyle diseases.
According to article PMC4425174 of NCBI, several bioactive phenolic compounds like caffeic acid, epicatechin and rutin are present in beetroot, making it an excellent antioxidant.
According to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, 100 g of beetroot has an ORAC score of 1776.
- Energy: 35.6 Kcal
- CHO: 6.18 g
- Protein: 1.95 g
- Fat: 0.14 g
- Fibre: 3.31 g
- Folate: 97.37 µg
- Potassium: 306 mg
- Oxalate: 71.37 mg
- Citric acid: 134 mg
- Polyphenols: 57.56 mg
Kale is regarded as a superfood due to its high nutrition content.
Kale’s vitamin C, A, K, beta carotene, selenium and other antioxidants help in cancer prevention. It also contains a number of other health-promoting compounds.
Daily requirements of the vitamins C, A and K can be rendered by a single cup of Kale.
They play a role in heart health, bone strengthening, blood clotting, skin health, vision and the prevention of cancer and Diabetes.
Hydrating the body and increasing the metabolism is an added advantage of consuming kale.
According to the USDA Database, 100 g of kale has an ORAC score of 5770.
- Energy: 35 Kcal
- CHO: 4.4 g
- Protein: 2.9 g
- Fat: 1.5 g
- Fibre: 4.1 g
- Calcium: 254 mg
- Potassium: 348 mg
- Sodium: 53 mg
ORAC Scores of different foods
The ORAC unit is per 100 g of the food.
Antioxidants are natural compounds that scavenge free radicals. It is considered as an alternative to synthetic sources since they will be more safer and convenient as dietary components.
Antioxidant properties are noticeable in many vitamins and minerals. A lot of novel ingredients possess high antioxidant values including blueberries, amla, spinach, broccoli, red cabbage, kale and so on. Including antioxidant-rich foods in the diet can help keep the body healthy.
1.What food is highest in antioxidants?
There are many antioxidant-rich foods. Dark chocolate, prune, raspberry, blueberry, kale and beans are a few best foods with high antioxidant content.
2.How can I increase my antioxidants?
Increasing the antioxidants is best done by consuming plant-based foods. Antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, herbs and spices, nuts, seeds and cocoa are good options.
3.What is the most powerful antioxidant?
Vitamin E is the most potent lipid membrane antioxidant. The most powerful water-soluble antioxidant found in blood plasma is vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid.
4.Can too much antioxidants be harmful?
Excess antioxidants in the form of supplements can be fatal or cause diseases. The effect of too much antioxidants lies in whether they are obtained through supplements or food in the form of a balanced and healthy diet.
It is always recommended for normal individuals to take antioxidants through plant-based sources rather than as supplements for beneficial effects
5.What is an antioxidant good for?
Antioxidants are good for protecting the cells from free radicals. Free radicals can cause cancer, heart diseases and other illnesses to the body.
6.Can I take antioxidants daily?
Antioxidants can be taken daily. Problems arise only when it is taken in excess quantity. Consulting a doctor or a dietitian can guide a person on the required amount of antioxidants.
7.What are the benefits of eating foods high in antioxidants?
A high-antioxidant diet may lower the risk of cancer, heart problems and other diseases. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals from body cells and prevent or reduce oxidative damage.