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Did you know the main reason you often fall sick or are prone to contagious diseases? It is because your immune system is weak. Antioxidants produced by your body or consumed through your diet are insufficient to combat free radicals.

What are antioxidants? What are free radicals? Which antioxidants really benefit your body?

This article lucidly explains the benefits of antioxidants and recommends easily available sources to improve your immune system.

There are potentially harmful molecules in our bodies called free radicals, which cause cell damage. Antioxidants are compounds naturally produced by your body. It acts as a defense mechanism to keep free radicals in check.

You also find antioxidants in food, especially in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based, whole foods. Several vitamins, such as vitamins E and C, are effective sources of antioxidants.

Should You Get Rid of Free Radicals Completely?

As part of your body’s metabolic process, free radicals are constantly being formed. In the absence of antioxidants, free radicals would cause serious damage quickly, leading to organ dysfunction; eventually resulting in death.

However, it would be interesting to note that free radicals also serve some important functions essential for your health. Your immune cells use free radicals to fight infections. Therefore, your body needs to maintain an appropriate balance of free radicals and antioxidants to remain healthy.

The problem starts when free radicals outnumber antioxidants. It can then lead to a condition called oxidative stress.

Several lifestyles, environmental, and stress factors aggravate excessive free radical formation and oxidative stress. This includes:

  • air pollution
  • cigarette smoke
  • alcohol intake
  • toxins
  • high blood sugar levels
  • high intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • radiation, including excessive sunbathing
  • bacterial, fungal, or viral infections
  • excessive intake of iron, magnesium, copper, or zinc
  • excessive or lack of oxygen in your body
  • intense and prolonged exercise, which causes tissue damage
  • excessive intake of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E
  • antioxidant deficiency

This may lead to:

  • an excessive release of copper ions or free iron
  • activation of phagocytes – a white blood cell that fights infection
  • an increase in enzymes that generate free radicals
  • a disruption of electron transport chains

These can cause oxidative stress.

Prolonged oxidative stress can damage your DNA and other important molecules in your body. Moreover, oxidative stress has been linked to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, respiratory diseases, immune deficiency, emphysema, Parkinson’s disease, and other inflammatory or ischemic conditions. Some scientists have theorized that it plays a pivotal role in the aging process.

Antioxidants are considered to help neutralize free radicals in our bodies and boost overall health.

Types of Antioxidants

Antioxidants produced by the body are called endogenous antioxidants. And exogenous are antioxidants that come from outside the body.

There are thousands of substances that can act as antioxidants. Each has its own merits and can interact with others to help the body work efficiently.

“Antioxidant” is not really the nomenclature of a particular substance. It simply describes what a range of substances can do.

Examples of exogenous antioxidants include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Beta-carotene
  • Lycopene
  • Lutein
  • Selenium
  • Manganese
  • Zeaxanthin

Each of the antioxidants serves a distinctive function and is not interchangeable with another. This is the reason it is essential to have a varied diet to get a wider benefit.

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Sources of Dietary Antioxidants from Food

Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of plant-based antioxidants. To get some specific antioxidants, it is advisable to include the following in your diet:

Vitamin A: Dairy produce, eggs, and liver

Vitamin C: Most fruits and vegetables, especially oranges, berries, and bell peppers

Vitamin E: Green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and oil from sunflower and vegetables

Beta-carotene: Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, peas, spinach, and mangoes

Lycopene: Pink and red fruits and vegetables, including beetroot, tomatoes, and watermelon

Lutein: Green leafy vegetables, corn, papaya, and oranges

Selenium: Rice, wheat, corn, whole grains, nuts, eggs, cheese, and legumes

Healthy Foods High in Antioxidants

Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help increase your blood antioxidant levels to fight oxidative stress and reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer.

Scientists and researchers use several tests to measure the content of antioxidants in foods.

One of the best tests that showed accuracy is the FRAP (Ferric Reducing Ability of Plasma) analysis. It measures the antioxidant content of foods by how well they can neutralize a specific free radical.

Higher the FRAP value, the more antioxidants the food contains. Here are the top 10 healthy foods high in antioxidants.

1. Dark Chocolates

It is a rich source of antioxidants and minerals, contains less sugar than milk chocolate

If you have a sweet tooth, you are in luck. But make sure you bite on the darker varieties. Dark chocolates have more cocoa than regular ones. And it also has more minerals and antioxidants.

The FRAP value of dark chocolate is up to 15 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). This is much more than raspberries and blueberries. Moreover, the antioxidants in cocoa and dark chocolate have been linked to significant health benefits, such as less inflammation and reduced risk factors for heart disease by raising blood antioxidant levels.

2. Blueberries

Berries are low in calories but high in fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants

Blueberries, even though low in calories, are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.

Based on the FRAP analysis, blueberries have up to 9.2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

It is observed in several studies that blueberries contain the highest antioxidant levels of all commonly consumed fruits and vegetables. Research studies found antioxidants in blueberries may be the cause for delaying a decline in brain function that happens with age.

Additionally, the antioxidants in blueberries, especially a type called Anthocyanin, reduce risk factors for heart disease, lowering LDL cholesterol levels, and reducing blood pressure.

So, munch those berries for a hearty life.

3. Strawberries

Strawberries are packed with vitamins, fiber, and particularly high levels of antioxidants

Strawberries, being the most popular berries on the planet, are a rich source of vitamin C and antioxidants.

Based on a FRAP analysis, strawberries provide up to 5.4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

Like blueberries, strawberries are also rich in anthocyanins, which may help reduce LDL cholesterol among people who had either heart disease or high LDL levels.

If you prefer red, strawberries are for you.

4. Raspberries

Raspberries are a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and antioxidants. They are soft, tart berries often used in desserts.

Based on a FRAP analysis, raspberries have up to 4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

In a sample test-tube study, they found antioxidants and other components in raspberries killed 90% of the cancer cells in the stomach, colon, and breast.

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Raspberries also contain anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, besides helping with heart ailments.

Another review of studies concluded that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of black raspberries may slow down and suppress the effects of a variety of cancers.

5. Beetroot

Beetroot is the root of a vegetable and is a great source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate, and antioxidants.

Based on a FRAP analysis, beets contain up to 1.7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

They’re rich in a group of antioxidants called betalains. These give beets their reddish color and have been linked to a lower risk of cancers in the colon and digestive tract.

A study found that beets contain other compounds that may help suppress inflammation and taking betalain capsules made from beetroot extract significantly relieved osteoarthritis pain and inflammation.

6. Red Cabbage

Red cabbage, also known as purple cabbage, is rich in vitamins C, K, and A and has a high antioxidant content.

According to a FRAP analysis, red cabbage provides up to 2.2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces. That’s over four times the amount of antioxidants in regular cooked cabbage.

Red cabbage contains anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that give it its red color. Red cabbage is a rich source of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant in the body. Vitamin C may help strengthen the immune system and keep the skin firm.

7. Artichokes

Artichoke helps regulate blood pressure, improve liver and digestive health

Artichokes are a great source of dietary fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. It is a delicious and nutritious vegetable, though not very common in the North American diet.

Based on a FRAP analysis, artichokes contain up to 4.7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

It is rich in antioxidants known as chlorogenic acid, which may reduce the risk of certain cancers, Type-2 diabetes, and heart disease. People in ancient times used the leaves as a remedy to treat liver conditions like jaundice.

8. Kale

Kale is a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the group of vegetables that includes broccoli and cauliflower.

Kale is considered being one of the most nutritious greens and is rich in vitamins A, K, and C. It’s also rich in antioxidants, providing up to 2.7 mmol per 3.5 ounces. The red varieties of kale such as redbor and red Russian kale may contain nearly twice as much — up to 4.1 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

Kale is also a great plant-based source of calcium, an important mineral that helps maintain bone health and plays a major role in other cellular functions.

9. Beans

Beans are a diverse group of legumes and are one of the best vegetable sources of antioxidants that are incredibly high in fiber, which can help regularize your bowel movements.

As per FRAP analysis, green broad beans contain up to 2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

Some beans, like pinto beans, contain a particular antioxidant called kaempferol, which has shown significant health benefits, such as reducing chronic inflammation and suppressing cancer growth.

10. Pecans

Pecans improve digestion, help with weight loss, and have anti-aging benefits

Pecans are a type of nut found in Mexico and South America. They are a good source of healthy fats, minerals, and a high amount of antioxidants.

As per a FRAP analysis, pecans contain up to 10.6 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces.

A research study found that people who consumed 20% of their daily calories from pecans experienced significantly increased blood antioxidant levels. They experienced a 26–33% fall in oxidized blood LDL levels within two to eight hours.

However, pecans are also high in calories. So it’s important to eat pecans in moderation to avoid adding up too many calories.


Every person may have a deficiency in some or the other vitamins and nutrients. And that’s alright. But neglecting this imbalance can be detrimental to your health. Testing and finding which one you lack can help you decide which antioxidants you need to take more of and which ones to minimize or avoid.

A diet rich in antioxidants will balance what your body needs and prevent damage caused by free radicals by neutralizing them. Consult with your dietician to prepare an ideal diet program that best suits your body.

Editor’s Note: We updated this article on February 23, 2022 for accuracy reasons.

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