The Top 12 Foods High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants are substances that prevent or delay cell damage caused by compounds called free radicals. These free radicals are highly reactive compounds that can damage cells and lead to the development of chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and more. Antioxidants counter the damage caused by free radicals. Therefore, they protect your cells and help prevent disease.

To increase your overall antioxidant intake, eat a diet with a wide array of plants, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, fungi, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, even edible flowers.

Here are 12 of the top sources of antioxidants, how they benefit your health, and simple ways to add them to your diet.

What are free radicals?

In chemistry, a free radical is an atom, molecule, or ion that has at least one unpaired valence electron. Usually, these unpaired electrons make radicals highly chemically reactive, and can damage cells, causing illness and aging. Free radicals are produced when your body uses oxygen to generate energy.


Research shows that consuming apples and apple products helps protect against cancer, heart disease, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease. Apples are also linked to improved outcomes related to diabetes, weight management, bone, lung, and gut health. This is likely due to apple's polyphenols, the antioxidant compounds apples contain. A 2022 research review concluded that when it comes to chronic diseases, an apple a day could indeed keep the doctor away.

Enjoy apples alone or paired with nuts, nut butter, or hummus. Add chopped apples to oatmeal or overnight oats, smoothies, garden salads, slaws, and stir fries. Apples can also be incorporated into desserts, like dark chocolate covered apple slices and cinnamon baked apples.


In addition to good fats, avocados are rich in polyphenol antioxidants. A 2020 study looked at the effects of avocados on blood antioxidant levels and “bad” LDL cholesterol. In the study, 45 men and women aged 21–70 with obesity and high LDL cholesterol levels were randomly assigned to one of three diets for five weeks. The first was a low-fat diet with 24% of the total daily calories coming from fat. The other two were moderate in fat with 34% of calories from fat. One of the moderate fat diets included one avocado per day, and the other provided the same amount of fat without avocado.

Only the avocado diet increased blood antioxidant levels and reduced LDL. Researchers concluded that the positive outcomes were due to bioactive compounds found in avocados beyond their fats, including antioxidants. 

In addition to antioxidants, one avocado provides 9.25 grams of fiber, 33% of the daily value (DV), and 690 milligrams of potassium, 15% of the DV. Potassium is a key mineral and electrolyte that supports nerve function, muscle contraction, and blood pressure regulation.

Whip avocado into smoothies or enjoy it on toast, salads, sandwiches, soups, or chili. You can also use avocado as a mayo alternative, as a creamy salad dressing base, a butter substitute in baking, or in desserts like chocolate avocado pudding or dairy-free ice cream.   


Berries are antioxidant powerhouses. They contain several types of antioxidants associated with protecting against heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other disorders. Studies show that berries like strawberries and blueberries raise blood antioxidant levels and have positive effects on inflammation, brain function, and mental health. Anti-inflammatory antioxidants found in berries may also offer pain relieving effects in people with arthritis.

Berries are also good sources of vitamin C and are among the lowest calorie fruits. One cup of frozen mixed berries provides 63 milligrams of vitamin C (70% of the DV) and just 63 calories.

Nibble on fresh or frozen berries alone or add them to sweet and savory dishes. Blend berries into smoothies, add them to oatmeal, nut butter toast, and pancakes. Add berries to garden salads, cooked veggies like Brussels sprouts, grilled salmon, or wild rice, and serve them for or with healthy desserts, like chia pudding.   


Cocoa is rich in polyphenol antioxidants, such as flavanols. In addition to anti-inflammatory effects, cocoa polyphenols have a positive effect on gut microbes. Cocoa polyphenols enhance the growth of good gut bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, reduce the number of pathogenic ones, such as Clostridium perfringens, and enhance the body’s immune response.

Cocoa antioxidants also impact brain health. A 2020 research review concluded that antioxidants in cocoa called flavanols improved brain function in young adults, including learning and memory.

A quarter cup of serving of cocoa powder also provides 108 milligrams of magnesium (25% of the DV), a mineral needed for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including nerve, muscle, immune, and heart function.

Whip cocoa powder into smoothies or add it to oatmeal, overnight oats, pancakes, and energy balls. Cocoa powder can also be incorporated into savory recipes, like mole and chili, and countless healthy treats, from lightly sweetened chocolate hummus to oat milk-based hot cocoa, and date-based fudge.  

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables, which include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts, are rich in antioxidants, including various carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin), flavonoids, anthocyanins, and terpenes. Consuming these vegetables is strongly linked to protecting against cancer, and slowing cancer growth.

Another type of antioxidants in cruciferous vegetables called glucosinolates have also been shown to fight cancer and may have beneficial effects on neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as depression, schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Cruciferous vegetables are low in calories and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One cup of raw broccoli contains 30 calories, 2.37 grams of fiber (8% of the DV), 81.2 milligrams of vitamin C (90% of the DV), along with small amounts of iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc.

Whip kale into smoothies or use it as a salad base. Transform shredded cabbage or broccoli or shaved Brussels sprouts into slaw. Enjoy sides of cauliflower rice. Or sautéed, grilled, or oven roasted broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts. You can also incorporate these veggies into stir fries, soups, and stews. 

Green Tea

Catechins, the main antioxidants in green tea, are known to be preventative against a number of cancers, including lung, breast, esophageal, stomach, liver, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. They’ve also been shown to have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-aging, and blood pressure-lowering effects.

A 2022 research review concluded that green tea, which also contains polyphenol and flavonoid antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic effects. In addition, green tea supports immune function and protects brain health.

Green tea may also provide small amounts of minerals, including copper, manganese, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. However, the amounts vary depending on where the tea was grown.

In addition to sipping green tea hot or iced, the beverage can be used to steam vegetables or whole grain rice, or as a liquid in smoothies, overnight oats, soups, and sauces. 


Mushrooms contain an array of antioxidants, which have been shown to fend off aging and reduce chronic disease risk. They’re considered one of the top anti-inflammatory foods.

Mushrooms are also low in calories. One cup of whole white mushrooms provides 21 calories and one whole portabella mushrooms contains just 18.5 calories.

Mushrooms are also the only non-animal source of naturally occurring vitamin D, particularly when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. Adequate vitamin D is important for bone health and muscle function and may protect against some cancers, lung diseases in children, heart and brain diseases, and all types of diabetes.

Blend mushrooms into smoothies or add them to tofu, chickpea, or egg scrambles, salads, soups, stir fries, curries, tacos, pasta dishes, and more. Mushrooms can even be incorporated into baked goods, like brownies, cupcakes, and rice pudding.    


All nuts contain powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. Walnuts, pistachios, and pecans are specially high in these antioxidants per serving. The antioxidants in nuts help reduce inflammation and may play a role in bone and brain health.

A 2019 research review concluded that the increase in blood antioxidant levels from antioxidant-rich plant foods, including nuts, is tied to a reduced risk of all causes of death, including heart disease and cancer. Nuts also provide plant protein, healthful fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Nuts and nut butters can be incorporated into a range of dishes as an ingredient or garnish. Add nuts to smoothies, oatmeal or overnight oats, energy balls, salads, cooked veggies, stir fries, and slaw. You can season nut butter with garlic, ginger, and chili pepper to make a savory sauce for steamed veggies and tofu. You can also scoop up nut butter with raw veggies or fresh fruit or layer it with melted dark chocolate for a nutritious treat. 

Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the type of olive oil that contains the highest levels of polyphenols, the antioxidants known to reduce inflammation, slow the progression of cancer, heart and brain diseases, and reduce overall death risk.

Polyphenols found in EVOO have also been shown to fend off aging, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome means having three or more of the following conditions: a large waistline, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, or low “good” HDL cholesterol.

The healthy fats in EVOO also help the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, which play integral roles in vision, bone health, immune function, and blood clotting.

EVOO can be used in a variety of ways. Research shows that to preserve its polyphenol content, it’s best to use EVOO for no-heat or low-heat cooking (120 degrees Fahrenheit or less). Enjoy EVOO in salad dressings, slaws, and cool vegetable dishes like salad.


Potatoes are bursting with antioxidants. Antioxidants in potatoes include carotenoids, flavonols, anthocyanins, and vitamins C and E. These antioxidants are tied to benefits like reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, depression, heart disease, age-related vision loss, obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and more.

One large baked potato also provides six grams of fiber (21% of the DV) and 1,560 milligrams of potassium (33% of the DV).

Baked potatoes can be loaded with healthy toppings, like steamed or sautéed veggies paired with hummus, olive tapenade, guacamole, pesto, tomato sauce, or seasoned tahini. For an antioxidant-rich side dish, toss cooked, chilled potatoes with mustard, EVOO, and herbs. 


Pulses, which include beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas, are high in antioxidants, including polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-allergic properties. Pulses are also rich in protein, fiber, and minerals.

One cup of cooked lentils provides 18 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber (53% of the DV), 6.59 milligrams of iron (36% of the DV), 2.52 milligrams of zinc (22% of the DV), 71.3 milligrams of magnesium (17% of the DV), and 731 milligrams of potassium (15% of the DV).

Pulses are incredibly versatile. You can use chickpeas in a breakfast scramble or hummus, or oven-roast them and season them for a filling snack. You can also add beans or lentils to soups, salads, tacos, veggie chili, or even desserts like black bean brownies, chickpea “cookie dough,” or baked goods made with pulse flours.    


Tomatoes are rich in an antioxidant called lycopene. This compound, which gives tomatoes their color, has also been shown to reduce inflammation, protect heart health, prevent artery hardening, and reduce blood pressure.

Antioxidant-rich tomatoes have also been shown to protect brain health, reduce the risk of cancer and bowel diseases, and improve skin health, exercise recovery, and immune response.

One cup of tomato sauce also provides 728 milligrams of potassium (15% of the DV) and 17.2 milligrams of vitamin C (19% of the DV).

Cooked tomatoes are higher in lycopene versus raw tomatoes. You can consume tomatoes in a scramble or omelet at breakfast. Toss pastas with tomato sauce or roast tomatoes in the over for a delicious side dish.     

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