Load up on Antioxidants

By: Tania Menachegani Khachatourians, B.S., CSUN Dietetic Intern


Inside the human body, there is a constant battle to keep the “bad” out and keep the “good” in. Antioxidants are the “soldiers” that fight this battle inside our body.

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.1 Free radicals are substances that attack healthy cells and are produced through normal body functions including food consumption, breathing, exercise, and lifestyle choices.1 These are the “unstable molecules made by the process of oxidation during normal metabolism” that may play a role in cancer, stroke, and disease development.2 Free radicals damage cell components such as DNA, proteins, and the cell membrane.3 Free radicals may be increased through toxins found in cigarette smoke, metals, and high-oxygen atmospheres. Whether the antioxidants are naturally found in food or synthesized, they neutralize free radicals in the body and prevent or delay the cell damage.4

Antioxidant background

Antioxidants became a popular topic in the 1990s, when scientists found a correlation between free radical damage and the development of chronic conditions such as vision loss and cancer.5 With the research data pointing to low consumption of fruits and vegetables as a root cause of developing chronic disease, research efforts began to focus on the effect of antioxidant supplementation to reduce these risks.5 Research studies over the years have shown mixed results, with the majority of findings indicating that antioxidant supplementation alone is NOT an effective way to prevent chronic diseases.4,5 High consumption of fruits and vegetables HAVE been correlated with lower risks of developing diseases.4

Should you get antioxidants from supplements or food?

In rare cases, antioxidants in the form of supplements may be beneficial, however antioxidants coming from foods are always preferred and highly recommended. The safety of antioxidants has not been a concern coming from fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, spices, legumes and nuts/seeds that are unprocessed or minimally processed. However, supplements that are highly concentrated forms of antioxidants have been shown to increase the risk of disease, such as beta-carotene supplements increasing risk of lung cancer in those who smoke, and vitamin E increasing risk of stroke and prostate cancer.4,5 Antioxidant supplements may interact with other medications, therefore it is suggested to seek approval from a health care provider before use.Research has shown that those who consume more fruits and vegetables, which include antioxidants and other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber, have lower risks of developing disease. It is unclear if the results are due to antioxidants alone or other factors such as overall diet and lifestyle.Therefore, extracted antioxidant supplementation alone is not the answer to promoting health. Following an overall balanced diet with high consumption of fruits and vegetables can provide many health benefits. Aim for 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cup of colorful vegetables daily.1

Which foods contain antioxidants?

The human body is able to produce some antioxidants, however, it relies greatly on our diet to get the most of our antioxidants. In food sources, antioxidants can be found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Some examples of antioxidants include selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids including lycopene, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein.3,4,6 Note that “removing the peel from apples and cucumber decreased the antioxidant content to 33–66% and 50% of the amount in the unpeeled products, respectively.” 5


Foods high in antioxidants: 1

Carotenoid Vitamin E Vitamin C
Tomatoes Wheat germ Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits and tangerines)
Carrots Whole-grain products Strawberries
Spinach Nuts and seeds Potatoes
Brussels sprouts Peanut butter and Nut-butter Sweet peppers
Sweet potatoes Vegetable oil Tomatoes
Winter squash   Broccoli


Top 20 foods with the highest antioxidant content 6

 Product Antioxidant content mmol/100 g
1. Cloves, ground  125.549
2. Oregano leaf, dried  40.299
3. Ginger, ground  21.571
4. Cinnamon, ground  17.647
5. Turmeric powder  15.679
6. Walnuts  13.126
7. Basil leaf, dried  12.307
8. Mustard seed, yellow, ground  10.527
9. Curry powder  9.980
10. Pecans  9.668
11. Chocolate, baking, unsweetened  8.876
12. Paprika  8.601
13. Chili powder  8.372
14. Parsley, dried  7.430
15. Molasses, dark  4.900
16. Pepper, black  4.444
17. Artichokes, prepared  4.237
18. Chocolate, dark  4.188
19. Blackberries  3.990
20. Whole-grain cereal  3.412


Top 10 highest antioxidant foods (based on typical serving size). 6

Product Antioxidant content mmol/serving
1. Blackberries  5.746
2. Walnuts  3.721
3. Strawberries  3.584
4. Artichokes, prepared  3.559
5. Cranberries  3.125
6. Coffee  2.959
7. Raspberries  2.870
8. Pecans  2.741
9. Blueberries  2.680
10. Cloves, ground  2.637

Foods with the lowest antioxidant content are “fats and oils; meat, meat products, and substitutes; poultry and poultry products, fish and seafood, and egg and egg dishes.” 6

If you would like to get your antioxidants in today try our antioxidant recipe below from our very own MMC kitchen!

Kale, Orange & Almond Salad with Marmalade Dressing

Watch the video here

Cost per serving: $2.45
Rich in: vitamin C, vitamin A and antioxidants


  • 1 bunch of kale (de-stemmed and rinsed)
  • 1 fresh orange (peeled and cubed)
  • ½ cup of roasted almonds (chopped)



  1. Mix all the dressing ingredients (olive oil, vinegar, ginger, marmalade, salt, pepper, and green onions) in a jar container, close the lid and shake well. Put aside.
  2. Mix chopped kale, oranges and almonds in a bowel.
  3. Pour in the dressing and mix well.
  4. Sprinkle some almonds on top.
  5. Serve and enjoy!


  1. Wolfram, Taylor. Protecting Healthy Cells. (Feb 23,2018). Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/antioxidants-protecting-healthy-cells.
  2. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. (n.d). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/antioxidant
  3. Antioxidants and cancer prevention. National Cancer Institute. 2017 Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/antioxidants-fact-sheet.
  4. Antioxidants: In Depth. (n.d.). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm
  5. Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype. (n.d.). Harvard T.H. Chan. School of Public Health. Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/
  6. Halvorsen, B. L., Carlsen, M. H., Phillips, K. M., Bohn, S. K., Holte, K. J., David R., Jr., & Blomhoff, R. (2006). Content of redox-active compounds (ie, antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States. (Author abstract) (Brief article). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,84(1), 95-135. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/84/1/95/4633004


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