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Which foods are high in antioxidants?

Which foods are high in antioxidants?

Antioxidants are man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage. Diets high in vegetables and fruits, which are good sources of antioxidants, have been found to be healthy; however, research has not shown antioxidant supplements to be beneficial in preventing diseases.

Research has shown that people who eat more vegetables and fruits have lower risks of several diseases; however, it is not clear whether these results are related to the amount of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits, to other components of these foods, to other factors in people’s diets, or to other lifestyle choices (1).

Which foods are high in antioxidants?

Beverages

The highest antioxidant values in this category were found among the unprocessed tea leaves, tea powders and coffee beans. Fifty-four different types of prepared coffee variants procured from 16 different manufacturers showed that the variation in coffees are large, ranging from a minimum of 0.89 mmol/100 g for one type of brewed coffee with milk to 16.33 mmol/100 g for one type of double espresso coffee, the highest antioxidant value of all prepared beverages analyzed in the present study.

Other antioxidant-rich beverages are red wine, which has a smaller variation of antioxidant content (1.78 to 3.66 mmol/100 g), pomegranate juice, prepared green tea (0.57 to 2.62 mmol/100 g), grape juice, prune juice and black tea (0.75 to 1.21 mmol/100 g).

Grains and Beans

Among grains and grain products, buckwheat, millet and barley flours are the flours with the highest antioxidant values, while crispbread and wholemeal bread with fiber are the grain products containing the most antioxidants. Beans and lentils have mean antioxidant values ranging from 0.1 to 1.97 mmol/100 g. 

Nuts and Seeds

Pecans with pellicle, sunflower seeds and chestnuts with pellicle, have mean antioxidant content in the range of 4.7 to 8.5 mmol/100 g. Walnuts, chestnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds have higher values when analyzed with the pellicle intact compared to without pellicle.

Chocolate

The variation of antioxidant content in chocolate ranged from 0.23 in white chocolate to 14.98 mmol/100 g in one individual dark chocolate sample. Mean antioxidant contents increased with increasing content of cocoa in the chocolate product. Chocolate products with cocoa contents of 24-30%, 40-65% and 70-99% had mean antioxidant contents of 1.8, 7.2 and 10.9 mmol/100 g, respectively.

Fats and Oils

Margarine, butter, canola, corn and soybean oil are the highest-ranking products in the “Fats and Oils” category. Almost half of the fats and oils have antioxidant content between 0.4 and 1.7 mmol/100 g.

Fruits and Vegetables

The average antioxidant content of berries and berry products is relatively high, being 1.90 to 6.31 mmol/100 g, respectively. Other examples of antioxidant-rich berries are black currants, wild strawberries, blackberries, goji berries, and cranberries. 

Examples of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables were dried apples, flour made of okra, artichokes, lemon skin, dried plums, dried apricots, curly kale, red and green chili and prunes. Examples of fruit and vegetables in the medium antioxidant range were dried dates, dried mango, black and green olives, red cabbage, red beets, paprika, guava and plums.

Herbs and Spices

Sorted by antioxidant content, clove has the highest mean antioxidant value, followed by peppermint, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, saffron and estragon, all dried and ground, with mean values ranging from 44 to 277 mmol/100 g. When analyzed in fresh samples compared to dried, oregano, rosemary and thyme have lower values, in the range of 2.2 to 5.6 mmol/100 g. This is also true for basil, chives, dill and parsley. 

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A note about free radicals

Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that are naturally formed when you exercise and when your body converts food into energy. Your body can also be exposed to free radicals from a variety of environmental sources, such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, and sunlight. Free radicals can cause “oxidative stress,” a process that can trigger cell damage. Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Antioxidant molecules have been shown to counteract oxidative stress in laboratory experiments (for example, in cells or animal studies). However, there is debate as to whether consuming large amounts of antioxidants in supplement form actually benefits health. There is also some concern that consuming antioxidant supplements in excessive doses may be harmful (2).

What are polyphenols?

Polyphenols are secondary metabolites of plants and are generally involved in defense against ultraviolet radiation or aggression by pathogens. In the last decade, there has been much interest in the potential health benefits of dietary plant polyphenols as antioxidants.

Epidemiological studies and associated meta-analyses strongly suggest that long term consumption of diets rich in plant polyphenols offer protection against the development of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases (2).

Which foods and drinks are high in polyphenols?

Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found largely in fruits, vegetables, cereals and beverages. 

Fruits like grapes, apples, pears, cherries and berries contain up to 200–300 mg polyphenols per 100 grams fresh weight.

Typically a glass of red wine or a cup of tea or coffee contains about 100 mg polyphenols. Cereals, dry legumes and chocolate also contribute to intake.

Key Takeaways

  • With a broad diet including lots of fruit, veg, beans, nuts and seeds, you’re likely to get a decent amount of antioxidants.

  • Make sure to include plenty of herbs and spices in your cooking for extra antioxidants.

  • Things like dark chocolate, tea powders and red wine also count towards antioxidant intake.

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References

1 – https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth

2 – Pandey KB, Rizvi SI. Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2009 Nov-Dec;2(5):270-8. doi: 10.4161/oxim.2.5.9498. PMID: 20716914; PMCID: PMC2835915.

By Kim

Hi, I'm Kim! I'm a Fitness & Nutrition Coach from the UK and owner of Barefaced Fitness.

I help women achieve their goals through effective training methods and creating healthy balanced diets. I offer a strong focus on strength, movement and simplified nutrition for a healthier lifestyle.