As well-informed denizens of the 21st century, we’re fairly familiar with the notion that it’s important to consume antioxidants. But when many of us hear the term ‘antioxidant,’ our brains immediately invoke Instagram-worthy images of stylized spirulina smoothies, chia pudding, acai bowls, and the like. While we’re certainly not going to burst your bubble and suggest that any of this is wrong, we are here to share that there are many highly-accessible sources of antioxidants available–and you’re likely already eating many of these fresh, nutrient-packed foods.
But first things first: What exactly are antioxidants, and why are we so eager to consume them? As nutrition expert Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, tells us, “Antioxidants are health-supporting compounds that fight inflammation and free radical damage.” These free radicals come about during exercise and exposure to sunlight and pollution, among other situations, and what makes them so harmful is that they can destabilize the cells in your body. “Over time, this can result in oxidative stress, which is the process that accelerates aging and damages cell DNA,” Cassetty says. “Ultimately, this can promote cancer and other health conditions.”
As a result, getting enough antioxidants is key to helping protect your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. “I like to think of cell damage like a chair with four legs,” Cassetty notes. “When one of the legs is broken, the chair is unstable. Antioxidant-rich foods help repair this damage, so your cells stay stable. This maintains your cellular health and helps protect you from cancer and other diseases.”
The amount of antioxidants contained in various foods is measured by what is called an ORAC score, or their Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. Acai berries are indeed an excellent source of antioxidants, but there are many other delicious sources of antioxidants that you could turn to if you grow tired of that whole acai bowl thing. Here are the top ten sources of antioxidants (all per 100 gram serving), according to Cassetty and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
1. Prunes: ORAC score of 5770
2. Raisins: ORAC score of 2830
3. Blueberries: ORAC score of 2400
4. Blackberries: ORAC score of 2036
5. Kale: ORAC score of 1770
6. Strawberries: ORAC score of 1540
7. Spinach: ORAC score of 1260
8. Raspberries: ORAC score of 1220
9. Brussels sprouts: ORAC score of 980
10. Plums: ORAC score of 949
“Ultimately, to benefit from antioxidant protection, studies show that emphasizing a wide range of plant foods in your diet is most effective,” Cassetty says. After all, fruits and vegetables are among the greatest sources of antioxidants available. In general, she recommends aiming for 75 percent plant foods every day. (And fun fact: Cassetty says that Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than other sources because we drink so much of it in relation to the amount of whole or minimally processed plant foods we eat.)
“I suggest that at least one of your daily snacks includes a fruit or vegetable,” she says. “And if you pair your fruit or vegetable with a plant-based fat or protein, you’ll get even more antioxidants.” BTW, protein-packed nuts and seeds, kidney beans, and other pulses are also filled with antioxidants. Just one more reason to hit up the farmers market and make this anti-inflammatory green goddess harvest bowl or our favorite corn, peach, and tomato salad.
Better yet, try this antioxidant-rich vegan berries and whipped cream recipe:
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