Many of us take the bait at the word “antioxidant,” buying health and beauty products without knowing exactly how these mysterious compounds actually benefit us. Let's clear that up: “Antioxidants act like little bodyguards to protect our cells from damage that can lead to premature aging and disease,” explains Cynthia Sass, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. They neutralize harmful free radicals, molecules that play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and more.
Though there are many antioxidant dietary supplements on the market, health experts typically recommend getting them the old fashioned way: through your diet. In fact, Sass says you should be eating antioxidant-rich foods multiple times a day.
Luckily, increasing your daily antioxidant intake is pretty simple; they're found in many of your favorite fruits, nuts, veggies, and even sweets! Wondering where to find the most antioxidants? We combed through a database of more than 3,100 foods, drinks, herbs, and spices (originally compiled and published in Nutrition Journal in 2010) to find the top 10 antioxidant-rich foods (per 100 grams) that you need in your diet.
Many antioxidants are plant compounds called polyphenols; the ones in these dark purple berries have been linked to slower decline of cognitive and motor skills with aging. Blackberries also get antioxidant star-power from vitamin C, not to mention just one cup has 7 grams of fiber, about a third of your recommended daily intake.
Just a handful of these nuts a day can help lower cholesterol. Pecans are bursting with the mineral manganese, which boasts age-defying antioxidant powers to help keep skin firm. Bonus for guys: Pecans also contain beta-sitosterol, which contributes to prostate health.
4 of 11
Cranberries can help reduce inflammation, raise "good" HDL cholesterol, and support the immune system. They contain a unique form of antioxidant, called proanthocyanidins or PACs, that keep E. coli and other bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls, which helps prevent urinary tract infections.
Not only are walnuts a solid source of protein, fiber, and manganese, they are also loaded with heart-healthy unsaturated fats, like all nuts. But compared to other varieties, walnuts are particularly rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid found mostly in plants.
Strawberries are loaded with vitamin C and other skin-friendly antioxidants that help your complexion recover from damage caused by UV rays and pollution. They also contain folate, a B vitamin that helps protect your heart. Strawberries are also known to naturally whiten your teeth.
Thanks to a hearty helping of magnesium, artichokes are known for generating energy. With the highest antioxidant content of all vegetables included in the database, artichokes also help improve heart and liver health.
The antioxidants that give these little powerhouses their blue hue–anthocyanins–can help fight against the growth of cancer cells. Blueberries are also loaded with vitamins C and K and manganese and are thought to help protect against heart disease and age-related memory loss.
9 of 11
As if you needed another reason to eat more chocolate! Dark chocolate gets its famed health benefits from antioxidants called flavonols that can help lower blood pressure and reduce diabetes risk. Skip highly processed chocolatey picks with added sugar and milk–as usual–since they have lower antioxidant levels.
The deep red color of cherries is due to high levels of anthocyanins, also found in blueberries, which reduce inflammation and help lower cholesterol. Canned tart or sour cherries and dried sweet cherries both scored higher for antioxidants than the sweet, fresh variety. Tart cherries pack an added bonus: melatonin, which might help regulate sleep cycles.
Along with other berries, raspberries help fight against inflammatory conditions, like gout and arthritis. Their fiber and polyphenols are thought to protect against heart disease, while their high levels of a type of antioxidant called ellagitannins may fight cancer.