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Natural Sources of Antioxidants

By Lin Edwards

Most people know that antioxidants neutralize the free radicals that damage cells and contribute to diseases like cancers, heart disease, arthritis, and many other conditions. Antioxidants contribute to a feeling of vitality and health, and they ward off the effects of aging.

There are plenty of antioxidant supplements available, but nutritionists and health experts agree that obtaining antioxidants from food is the best approach. This need not be a chore or dull, because antioxidants are found in all kinds of foods, and even in coffee and black chocolate!

Fruits and Vegetables

One of the best sources of antioxidants is colorful fruits and vegetables. As a rule, the more brightly colored, the higher the antioxidant content. If you choose fresh, colorful vegetables and fruits and make sure your diet has plenty of variety and few processed ‘industrial’ foods, you should have no trouble getting enough antioxidants.

The old saying that a plate of food should have something red, something green and something yellow or orange, is a sure way of selecting antioxidant-rich foods. Another old saying: “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is also true, because apples (particularly the peel) contain huge amounts of antioxidants.


Berries of all kinds contain massive amounts of antioxidants called flavonoids. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that milk, cream, ice cream and other milk products interfere with antioxidants and prevent them working effectively, so serve your berries without the cream. (Sugar does not affect antioxidants.)


Cooked tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene. Vitamin content is often reduced through cooking foods, so generally raw fruits and vegetables, or those quickly stir-fried contain more antioxidants, but tomatoes are an exception.

Fresh, raw tomatoes do contain antioxidants in the form of vitamins, but products such as tomato paste, ketchup, tomato soup, and canned tomatoes contain more useful antioxidants because lycopene changes to a more useful form for the body when it is heated.

Team cooked tomatoes with garlic and onions to give yourself an antioxidant boost, because garlic and onions contain selenium, which forms part of powerful antioxidant proteins called selenoproteins.

Fresh garlic and onions contain many other useful nutrients that have been shown to reduce cancers, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol levels, and garlic is also well known as a natural antibiotic.

Dried Fruit and Nuts

Dried fruits and nuts are great sources of antioxidants. Brazil nuts are especially rich in selenium, which is a potent antioxidant, but all nuts and dried fruits contain good quantities of antioxidants. If you are thinking of a snack, fresh or dried fruits or nuts, are hard to beat.

Tea, Coffee & Chocolate

Other good sources of antioxidants are tea, coffee and chocolate! Both green and black teas contain antioxidants, but if black tea is drunk with milk, the milk reduces the effectiveness of the antioxidants.

The same applies to coffee and chocolate, which also contain large quantities of antioxidants. So learn to like your tea, coffee and chocolate black. Incidentally, decaffeinated coffee also contains antioxidants.


Herbs such as parsley, sage, dill and oregano are also a good source of antioxidants, so remember to use them in your cooking and as garnishes. Most spices also contain antioxidants.


An unusual source of antioxidants is chia seeds (Salvia hispanica), which is sold in some health food stores. These tiny seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which give added health benefits.

They contain soluble fiber, which lowers ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, and early results of studies suggest they lower triglycerides and increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. You can sprinkle chia seeds on breads, yoghurt, salads, or muffins, for example.


Another unusual source is krill, which are the tiny crustaceans some whales eat. In many countries krill is seen only in fishing bait or aquarium fish food, but in Japan it is served in restaurants and is called okiami. Krill, or more specifically krill oil, contains astaxanthin, which is a very powerful antioxidant.

Lobster, shrimps and prawns also contain astaxanthin, which is the pigment that gives these crustaceans their red or pink color. Astanxanthin has the particularly useful property of being able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and this means it may be particularly effective in protecting against diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


Antioxidants are vital nutrients in the fight against disease and the processes of aging. It is fortunate there are many natural, and often cheap sources of antioxidants and you do not have to make your meals dull. In fact doing the opposite and making meals colorful affairs full of variety and taste is guaranteed to boost your antioxidant intake. And don’t forget the chocolate, but make it black!


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