Antioxidant: Life Saving Nutrient or Expensive Fad

Antioxidants are essential participants in the ongoing war between cancer-causing free radicals and healthy cells in your body.

Our bodies can create their own antioxidants, but we can also need to take in additional antioxidants from our food. We want to feed the protective forces with plenty of plant nutrients. This includes whole plant foods and plenty of herbs and spices. The best sources for antioxidants can be found in the common food categories listed below.

It’s easy to think of these protective antioxidants as the good guys in this so-called war. But, it turns out that to stay alive, we really do need destructive forces attacking us. We just don’t want them to get out of hand. It’s all in the balance.

How Antioxidants Work, Simplified

  • Antioxidants prevent and repair excess oxidation in the body.
  • Oxidation is a major metabolic process in which mitochondria burn up or combine oxygen and carbohydrates together to produce energy.
  • This highly efficient process is tightly controlled in the cell, yet a very small fraction of this “burning” actually escapes. We call these escaped molecules free radicals and ROS (reactive oxygen species).  These free radicals can also be created from environmental chemicals and toxins.
  • These ROS break down cells, DNA, cell membranes and many other parts of the body.
  • Different ROS in different parts of the body cause various degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, etc.
  • Different antioxidants are necessary to help prevent or repair this damage. Some of the best known nutrients like Vitamin C and Vitamin E are antioxidants.
  • Therefore, the best antioxidant diet contains a wide variety of antioxidants.

Foods with the Most Antioxidants

A research study in Oslo, Norway measured the antioxidant activity of 31,000 foods in over 23 different categories. This eight-year study created the most comprehensive database in this field. These were the top antioxidant sources.

1. Spices
2. Herbs
3. Berries
4. Nuts
5. Seeds
6. Green and herbal teas
7. Vegetables


Some Top Antioxidant Foods in Each Category

Large general categories:
Plant foods have 64 times more antioxidant activity than animal foods on average.


The highest antioxidant levels are found in unprocessed tea leaves, tea powders and coffee beans.
Other antioxidant rich beverages include red wine, pomegranate juice, prepared green tea, grape juice, prune juice and black tea.

Beer, soft drinks and ginger ale contain the lowest amount of antioxidants.

Breakfast cereals, grains & legumes:

Among grains and grain products, buckwheat, millet, and barley flours have the highest antioxidant values. Rice is much lower. Legumes contain moderate amounts.

Nuts and Seeds:
All nuts are high in antioxidants including walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds and peanuts.


The higher the cocoa content, the higher the antioxidant value. A high cocoa content can exceed the antioxidant levels of grains, but will not exceed nuts.


Berries like strawberries and blueberries are great sources of antioxidants. However, they pale in comparison to lesser-known fruits like amla (Indian gooseberry) bilberries, and dogrose.


Pomegranate, dried apple, lemon skin, dried apricots and plums all have high levels.


The particular nature of this testing missed many sulphur-containing antioxidants contained in foods like onions, garlic etc.

Kale, flour made of okra, artichokes, red and green chili rank the highest.


All are high, particularly cloves, mint, allspice, and thyme.

Herbal Traditional Plant Medicine:

The testing showed the highest amounts in Dragons’ Blood, Triphala, Amalaki and Arjuna.

Soups, Sauces Gravies and Dressings:

There are moderate antioxidant levels in tomato based sauces, basil pesto, and mustard paste, and sun- dried tomatoes.

Why You Shouldn’t Plan Your Health Program Just On These Antioxidant Level Findings

  • This study, though comprehensive, still has limitations. The study’s measuring procedure missed sulphur based antioxidants in vegetables, for example.
  • No measuring system can possibly test all the complex photochemicals in foods and predict their effects on health and disease prevention. Foods and the body are both just too complex to measure all the details. The authors admit that a typical diet provides more than 25,000 bio-active food constituents, all of which interact in various ways.
  • These foods were measured OUTSIDE THE BODY. “There is not necessarily a direct relationship between the antioxidant content of a food sample consumed and the subsequent antioxidant activity in the target cell.” Different nutrients will be digested and metabolized at different rates and different bodies will react to these nutrients differently.
  • Even though vegetables did not score as high as other categories, they still measured much higher than all animal products and you can eat large quantities of vegetables with little or no side effects.
  • There are many other health factors involved in nutrition and health. These factors include amounts of your macronutrients, acid/alkaline balance, effects on blood sugars, digestibility, seasonal appropriateness, toxicity levels and many others. Applying any one of these principles could change your life. You can read the many other benefits of each food by following the links.

Are Isolated Antioxidant Supplements Necessary?

When you are just testing for antioxidants, supplements obviously rank very high.

Many health experts suggest that, because health is such a complex topic, and because there are so many different antioxidants needed, getting your antioxidants from whole foods is the safest and most comprehensive route.

Many studies have measured the effects of isolated supplements on health and life span. Certain studies have indicated these supplements actually decrease life expectancy.

The first studies in this category were obviously lacking. For example, a study on vitamin E only used synthetic vitamin E. Since then, there have been more comprehensive studies and the results are mixed.

Supplements are expensive. Therefore, unless you are very well-educated on a particular supplement and know its effect on your body, you may want to save your money and spend it on the foods listed above.

My Focus:

At Real Food For Life, we focus on whole foods, carefully chosen spices and food grade herbs. When you stick to simple food principles, you consume all your antioxidants, plus you also end up helping your body for a number of other factors.

Learn To Live and Cook Health Principles the Simple Way:

Join one of the courses and learn how to plan and prepare super healthy meals
with my 
2-5-30 Healthy Diet Online Courses.

My Favorite Antioxidant Recipes

Cherry Pecan Chocolate Bar: Contains pecans (a top antioxidant nut), chocolate (high coco content), cherries (a top antioxidant fruit), honey (a top antioxidant sweetener) and coconut oil (a top antioxidant oil). And, it tastes amazing!

Blueberry Crumble Blueberries have more antioxidants than any other popular fruit and help prevent cancer, diabetes, and age-related memory loss. They are also rich in potassium, fibre and vitamins A & C.

vital healt assessment

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1 thought on “Antioxidant: Life Saving Nutrient or Expensive Fad”

  1. Hello Randy,
    Thanks very much for informative health sources. My passion is stay healthy; however,I’m worrying about the GMO in our food; It’s stressful when I go to the grocery store, I buy organics foods as much as I can, it’s limited at my local grocery. Your suggestions.

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