The Top 7 Antioxidant-Rich Foods You Should Stock Up On
Ever purchased a food or beverage labeled “antioxidant-rich” without really knowing what that term means? You’re not alone. (Here’s looking at you, $12 acaí bowl.)
According to the Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health, antioxidants only became well-known (and highly sought-after) by the general population in the 1990s. This was when researchers started to understand that the early stages of artery-clogging atherosclerosis, cancer, vision loss, and a host of other chronic conditions were closely correlated with free radical damage and oxidative stress—aka the very things that antioxidants help to prevent.
What Are Antioxidants, Exactly?
To understand antioxidants, it helps to know a bit about free radicals. “Free radicals are molecules that are broken down through normal metabolism and exposure to chemicals like tobacco or radiation,” explains Rachel Berman, RD and general manager of Verywell. “They can do harm to your body—think causing inflammation and increasing your risk of disease. Antioxidants are vitamins and other nutrients found in plant-based foods (like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) that prevent or slow damage to cells in your body caused by these free radicals.”
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Keep in mind that antioxidants aren’t substances themselves—rather, the term “antioxidant” refers to a chemical property exhibited by hundreds of different (and non-interchangeable) substances. Many of these we’re highly familiar with, like vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene. Others are less familiar: polyphenols, flavonoids, lipoic acid, glutathione, and so on. Most antioxidants occur naturally; they exist in foods to inhibit oxidation and protect against toxins in the local environment.
“It’s important to consume a variety of foods for better health, but antioxidant-rich foods will help protect your cells against damage from free radicals and may help reduce your risk for cancer, heart disease, and other conditions,” says Berman. So if you’re looking to up your antioxidant intake, you’re in good shape—and luckily, there are plenty of delicious ingredients options for you to choose from. Here are the top antioxidant-rich foods, according to registered dietitians. (FYI, none mention any pricey matcha-goji-turmeric-tonic wellness bowls).