Many nutrient-dense foods are rich in antioxidants, including certain types of berries, nuts, and vegetables. These foods have also been linked to other health benefits and may protect against chronic disease.
Antioxidants are compounds produced in your body and found in foods. They help defend your cells from damage caused by potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals (1).
When free radicals accumulate, they can cause oxidative stress. This may damage your DNA and other important structures in your cells.
Chronic oxidative stress can increase your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer (2).
Fortunately, eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help increase your blood antioxidant levels to decrease oxidative stress and reduce the risk of these diseases.
Scientists use several tests to measure the antioxidant content of foods.
One of the best tests is the FRAP (ferric reducing ability of plasma) analysis. It measures the antioxidant content of foods by determining how well they can neutralize a specific free radical (3).
The higher the FRAP value, the more antioxidants the food contains.
Here are the top 12 healthy foods that are high in antioxidants.
Lucky for chocolate lovers, dark chocolate is nutritious. It has more cocoa than regular chocolate, as well as more minerals and antioxidants (4).
Based on a 2010 FRAP analysis, dark chocolate has up to 15 millimoles (mmol) of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (oz), or 100 grams (g). This is even more than blueberries and raspberries, which contain up to 9.2 and 4 mmol of antioxidants in the same serving size, respectively (5).
Moreover, the antioxidants in cocoa and dark chocolate have been linked to impressive health benefits such as decreased inflammation and reduced risk factors for heart disease.
For example, a review of 31 studies looked at the link between cocoa intake and blood pressure in people with normal and high blood pressure (6).
Consuming cocoa-rich products like dark chocolate reduced levels of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure more effectively than a cocoa beverage (6).
Another older study found that dark chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease by raising blood antioxidant levels, raising levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, and preventing LDL (bad) cholesterol from becoming oxidized (7).
Oxidized LDL cholesterol is harmful because it promotes inflammation in the blood vessels, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease (8).
Dark chocolate is delicious, nutritious, and one of the best sources of antioxidants. Generally speaking, the higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants the chocolate contains.
Pecans are a type of nut native to North America. They are a good source of healthy fats and minerals, plus contain a high amount of antioxidants (9, 10).
Based on a FRAP analysis, pecans contain up to 10.6 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
In addition, pecans can help raise antioxidant levels in the blood.
For example, a study found that daily consumption of pecans for 8 weeks increased blood antioxidant levels in people at risk of heart disease (11).
In another 8-week study, people who consumed pecans experienced a reduction in levels of total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides compared to a control group, all of which are risk factors for heart disease (12).
Although pecans are a great source of healthy fats, they are also high in calories. Therefore, it’s important to moderate your portion sizes, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
Pecans are popular nuts rich in minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants. They may also help raise blood antioxidant levels and lower levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Although they are low in calories, blueberries are packed with nutrients and antioxidants (13).
According to a FRAP analysis, blueberries have up to 9.2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
Some studies suggest that blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant capacities among common types of fruits (14).
In addition, research from test-tube and animal studies has shown that the antioxidants in blueberries may delay the decline in brain function that tends to happen with age (15, 16).
Researchers have suggested that the antioxidants in blueberries may be responsible for this effect. They’re thought to do this by neutralizing harmful free radicals, reducing inflammation, and altering the expression of certain genes (16).
Additionally, the antioxidants in blueberries, especially a type called anthocyanins, have been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease, lowering LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure (17).
Blueberries are among the best sources of antioxidants in the diet. They are rich in anthocyanins and other antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and delay the decline in brain function that occurs with age.
Strawberries are among the most popular berries on the planet. They are sweet, versatile, and a rich source of vitamin C and antioxidants (18).
Based on a FRAP analysis, strawberries provide up to 5.4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
Moreover, strawberries contain a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins, which give them their red color. Strawberries that have a higher anthocyanin content tend to be brighter in color (19).
Research has shown that anthocyanins may help reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (good) cholesterol (20).
A review of 10 studies found that taking an anthocyanin supplement significantly reduced LDL cholesterol among people who had either heart disease or high LDL levels (21).
Like other berries, strawberries are rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Artichokes are a delicious and nutritious vegetable not very common in the North American diet.
However, they have a long history — people in ancient times used their leaves as a remedy to treat liver conditions like jaundice (22).
Artichokes are also a great source of dietary fiber, minerals, and antioxidants (23).
Based on a FRAP analysis, artichokes contain up to 4.7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
Artichokes are especially rich in the antioxidant known as chlorogenic acid. Studies suggest that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of chlorogenic acid may reduce the risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (24, 25).
The antioxidant content of artichokes can vary, depending on how they are prepared.
According to a 2008 study, boiling artichokes may raise their antioxidant content by eight times, and steaming them may raise it by 15 times. On the other hand, frying artichokes may reduce their antioxidant content (26).
Artichokes are vegetables with some of the highest levels of antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid. Their antioxidant content can vary based on how they are prepared.
Goji berries are the dried fruits of two related plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense.
They have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years (27).
Goji berries are often marketed as a superfood because they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (28, 29).
Based on a FRAP analysis, goji berries contain 4.3 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
In addition, goji berries contain unique antioxidants known as Lycium barbarum polysaccharides, which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer (30, 31).
Moreover, goji berries may also be very effective at raising blood antioxidant levels.
In one older study, healthy older adults consumed a milk-based goji berry drink every day for 90 days. By the end of the study, their blood antioxidant levels had risen by 57% (32).
However, while goji berries are nutritious, they can be expensive to eat on a regular basis.
Moreover, there are only a handful of studies on the effects of goji berries in humans. Though these support their health benefits, more human-based research is needed.
Goji berries are a rich source of antioxidants, including a unique type known as Lycium barbarum polysaccharides, which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.
Raspberries are soft, tart berries that are often used in desserts. They are a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and antioxidants (33).
Based on a FRAP analysis, raspberries have up to 4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
Several studies have linked the antioxidants and other components in raspberries to lower risks of cancer and heart disease.
A review of five studies concluded that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of black raspberries may slow down and suppress the effects of a variety of cancers (34).
Plus, the antioxidants in raspberries, especially anthocyanins, may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. This may reduce the risk of heart disease (35, 36).
That said, most of the evidence for the health benefits of raspberries is from test-tube studies. More research in humans is needed before recommendations can be made.
Raspberries are nutritious, delicious and packed with antioxidants. Like blueberries, they are rich in anthocyanins and have anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Kale is a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the group of vegetables cultivated from the species Brassica oleracea. Other members include broccoli and cauliflower.
Kale is one of the most nutritious greens on the planet and is rich in vitamins A, K, and C. It’s also rich in antioxidants, providing up to 2.7 mmol per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5, 37).
However, red varieties of kale such as redbor and red Russian kale may contain nearly twice as much — up to 4.1 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
This is because red varieties of kale contain more anthocyanin antioxidants as well as several other antioxidants that give them their vibrant color (38).
Kale is also a great plant-based source of calcium, an important mineral that helps maintain bone health and plays roles in other cellular functions (39).
Kale is one of the most nutritious greens on the planet, partly because it’s rich in antioxidants. Although regular kale is high in antioxidants, red varieties may contain close to twice as much.
Red cabbage has an impressive nutrient profile. Also known as purple cabbage, it is rich in vitamins C, K, and A, and has a high antioxidant content (40).
According to a FRAP analysis, red cabbage provides up to 2.2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
That’s more than four times the amount of antioxidants in regular cooked cabbage (5).
This is because red cabbage contains anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that give red cabbage its color. Anthocyanins are also found in strawberries and raspberries.
These anthocyanins have been linked to several health benefits. They may reduce inflammation, protect against heart disease, and reduce the risk of certain cancers (41, 42).
What’s more, red cabbage is a rich source of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant in the body. Vitamin C may help strengthen the immune system and keep the skin firm (43, 44).
Interestingly, the way red cabbage is prepared can also affect its antioxidant levels.
Boiling and stir-frying red cabbage may boost its antioxidant profile, while steaming red cabbage may reduce its antioxidant content by almost 35% (45).
Red cabbage is a delicious way to increase your antioxidant intake. Its red color comes from its high content of anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that have been linked to some impressive health benefits.
Beans are a diverse group of legumes that are inexpensive and healthy. They are also incredibly high in fiber, which can help keep your bowel movements regular (46, 47).
Beans are also one of the best vegetable sources of antioxidants. A FRAP analysis found that green broad beans contain up to 2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
In addition, some beans contain a particular antioxidant called kaempferol. This antioxidant has been linked to impressive health benefits, such as reduced chronic inflammation and suppressed cancer growth (48, 49).
For example, several animal studies have found that kaempferol may suppress the growth of cancers in the breast, bladder, kidneys, and lungs (50, 51, 52, 53).
However, because most of the research supporting the benefits of kaempferol has been in animals or test tubes, more human-based studies are needed.
Beans are an inexpensive way to increase your antioxidant intake. They also contain the antioxidant kaempferol, which has been linked to anticancer benefits in animal and test-tube studies.
Beets, also known as beetroot, are the roots of a vegetable scientifically known as Beta vulgaris. They have an earthy taste and are a great source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate, and antioxidants (54).
Based on a FRAP analysis, beets contain up to 1.7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (5).
They’re particularly rich in a group of antioxidants called betalains. These give beets their reddish color and have been linked to health benefits.
For example, several test-tube studies have linked betalains to a lower risk of cancers in the colon and digestive tract (55, 56).
Additionally, beets contain other compounds that may help suppress inflammation. For example, a study found that taking betalain capsules made from beetroot extract significantly relieved osteoarthritis pain and inflammation (57).
Beets are a great source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate, and antioxidants. They contain a group of antioxidants called betalains that have been linked to impressive health benefits.
Spinach is one of the most nutritionally dense vegetables. It’s loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and is incredibly low in calories (58).
Based on a FRAP analysis, spinach provides up to 1.4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 oz (100 g) (5).
Spinach is also a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that may help protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet light and other harmful light wavelengths (58, 59).
These antioxidants help combat damage to the eyes that free radicals may cause over time.
Spinach is rich in nutrients, high in antioxidants, and low in calories. It’s also one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, which defend the eyes from free radicals.
Antioxidants are compounds that your body makes naturally. You can also get them from foods.
They protect your body from potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals, which can accumulate and promote oxidative stress. Oxidative stress raises the risk of heart disease, cancers, type 2 diabetes, and many other chronic conditions.
Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals and reduce the risk of these chronic diseases.
By eating a wide variety of the foods in this article, you can boost your blood levels of antioxidants and reap their many health benefits.