Antioxidants are one of today’s most popular nutrition trends. To maintain good health and boost immunity, people are looking for ways to increase their intake of antioxidants. But what are antioxidants, and is the hype real?

Antioxidants are natural chemicals that help stop or limit damage caused by free radicals, which are molecules produced when your body breaks down food or when you’re exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation. The body uses antioxidants to balance these free radicals and prevent them from damaging other cells. Research shows that antioxidants can boost immunity and provide protection against heart disease, cancer, anxiety, depression, premature ageing, and many other diseases.

If you’re looking to up your intake of antioxidant-rich foods, start with these recommendations from The American Dietetic Association’s guide to foods highest in antioxidants:

Fruits and Vegetables

Colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and packed with vitamins. Generally, the darker the color, the higher the level of antioxidants. Leafy greens like spinach and kale are great sources of antioxidants, along with red, purple and yellow fruits and vegetables like beets, strawberries, cherries, red grapes, Brussels sprouts, corn, peppers, onion, eggplant, plums, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, blueberries, and pomegranate.

Dried Fruits

With the water removed, the antioxidant ratio is higher in dried fruits than in fresh. But be careful, as the sugar content can be higher. These easy-to-pack snacks include dried apricots, pears, plums, apples, peaches, figs, dates and raisins. In particular, Goji berries, which are part of traditional Chinese medicine, contain 4.3 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

Dark Chocolate

Lucky for chocolate lovers, the dark variety appears on a list of healthy foods!  It has more cocoa than regular chocolate, as well as more minerals and antioxidants. Studies show the antioxidants in cocoa and dark chocolate may lead to reduced inflammation and risk factors for heart disease.

Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are loaded with antioxidants and add enormous flavor to food. Consider adding cinnamon, ginger, pepper, chili powder, garlic, onion, oregano, turmeric, parsley, basil, or any of the hug variety of herbs and spices.  

Cereals and Nuts

Breakfast cereals and grains, such as corn flakes, granola, and oatmeal contain high levels of antioxidants, as do pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts and even that peanut butter sandwich.


Surprisingly, you can up your intake of antioxidants through drinks such as tomato juice, grapefruit juice, apple juice, and cider. Green tea is another good source, as is coffee. However, it’s important to note that adding dairy to coffee or tea blocks antioxidants. And, believe it or not, red wine and beer also offer a bid boost of antioxidants!

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center

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