Antioxidants: Twenty Of The Best Health-Boosting Foods

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Antioxidants are slowly but surely becoming all the rage… Last month, a team of USDA nutritionists published a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The title: ‘Lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities of common foods in the
United States.’ Snappy title. But perhaps a more descriptive title would be ‘Top 20 antioxidant-rich foods.’

The USDA nutritionists examined more than 100 different kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, cereals and other foods. Using an analysis method called the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), they were able to detect the lipid soluble (lipophilic) and water soluble (hydrophilic) antioxidant capacities of the food samples.

They also singled out certain foods to test the impact from two different processing methods: cooking and peeling.

Starting at the bottom

The results weren’t altogether surprising: Fruits, vegetables and beans claimed nearly all the spots in the Top 20. We’ll start with the lower ten, counting backwards:

20. Gala apples
19. Plums
18. Black beans (dried)
17. Russet potatoes (cooked)
16. Black plums
15. Sweet cherries
14. Pecans
13. Granny Smith apples
12. Red delicious apples
11. Strawberries

If there’s a surprise here, it’s that strawberries – known for their high antioxidant content – just missed the top ten.

Cream of the crop

When I began reading the USDA study, I tried to guess the number one antioxidant food before looking at the list. I guessed ‘blueberries,’ and I was close, but not quite on the money. Here’s the Top 10:

10. Raspberries
9. Prunes
8. Blackberries
7. Artichokes (cooked)
6. Cranberries
5. Blueberries (cultivated)
4. Pinto beans
3. Red kidney beans
2. Blueberries (wild)

And the number one antioxidant-rich food:
1. Small red beans (dried)

Small red beans! Who knew? The small red bean looks like a kidney bean – same colour and shape – except that it’s (you guessed it) smaller. It’s sometimes identified as a Mexican red bean, but it’s grown in Washington, Idaho, and Alberta, Canada.

To cook, or not to cook…

The USDA list is very useful, but it’s important to remember that the best way to get your antioxidants is not to eat heaping bowls of dried small red beans each day, but rather to eat a wide variety of antioxidant-rich foods.

That way you’ll also get other useful nutrients, such as ellagitannin; a substance that has been shown to help prevent the growth of cancerous cells and is found in raspberries and strawberries. And when you eat pecans you’ll add copper and potassium to your diet. Pinto and kidney beans are good sources of folate (sometimes called vitamin B-9), which may help lower homocysteine levels. And blueberries deliver a chemical called anthocyanis that has been shown to help protect brain cells.

As you might imagine, most antioxidant foods lose some of their antioxidant capacities in processing. (The most notable exception is the tomato; the antioxidant lycopene is enhanced by cooking.) Ronald L. Prior (one of the study co-authors) told HealthDayNews that ‘fresh’ is the unsurprising best choice over frozen, cooked or otherwise processed. So while blueberry pie may seem like a somewhat healthy treat, it can’t begin to compare with a bowl of blueberries, picked fresh from the meadow.


Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.

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  • Pomegranate juice was found to benefit patients with carotid artery stenosis, in those with hypertension, mild to
    moderate erectile dysfunction, and in patients with coronary.The antioxidant property is the most important part of
    a Pomegranate herbal supplement.

  • Beans and legumes are so easy and tasty to include in your meals! I love to make chilis with kidney and other beans, and some of my favorite recipes are these:

  • What about cold pressed chocolate. The cocoa bean has 100% antioxidants in its natural state. Anyone interested in the new healthy chocolate that is now in Canada and actually in 18 countries?

  • Being that Antioxidants dont last long in the body and have to be constantly replenished is drinking Acai, goji and noni antioxidants drinks just as benificial or even more then eating all the foods?

  • I would at to your list: pomegranates, acai berries, Goji berries and mulberries. All of these are also rich in antioxidants and are delicious too.

  • Excellent article, the things we continue discovering in our natural food chain. Look at what people who eat out each day are missing out on. Do you see any of these foods offered at fast food chains or on a large scale in restaurants.

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