Numerous studies have confirmed that berries are the best foods to maximize your intake of disease-fighting antioxidants, and have also identified the other fruits and vegetables with the highest antioxidant content.
Antioxidants are increasingly implicated as the chemicals behind many of the health-promoting benefits of fruits and vegetables. They act in part by cleansing the body of free radicals, which can cause cell and DNA damage that leads to the effects of aging and to many chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Just one cup per day
One major study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2004, analyzed the antioxidant levels of more than a hundred separate foods including fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, nuts and spices.
The researchers found that berries were by far the most cost-effective way of consuming antioxidants. Among all the fruits analyzed, cranberries, blueberries and blackberries topped the list for antioxidant content. Just a single cup a day of berries was found to provide the recommended daily intake of antioxidants for disease-fighting purposes.
The top ranking fruits, after berries, were peaches, mangoes and melons.
A similar study was published in the same journal in 2008 by researchers from Cornell University. In contrast with the 2004 study, melons were actually found to have the lowest antioxidant activity among fruits, along with bananas. Berries (including blackberries, raspberries and blueberries) still scored at the top, with wild blueberries found to be the most potent. Pomegranates ranked equal to berries in antioxidant content.
Taking into account which fruits and vegetables are most commonly eaten, apples and strawberries were found to contribute the most antioxidants to the U.S. diet.
“Increasing fruit consumption is a logical strategy to increase antioxidant intake and decrease oxidative stress and may lead to reduced risk of cancer,” the researchers concluded.
A comprehensive review
In 2010, the most comprehensive review of foods’ antioxidant content to date was published in Nutrition Journal. The analysis of more than 3,100 foods, beverages, herbs, spices and dietary supplements was conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University Of Minnesota, Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, University of Oslo, Akershus University College in Norway, and Akita University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan.
The researchers found that the antioxidant content varied several thousand-fold among the different products tested. The products with the highest antioxidant concentrations were herbs, spices and dietary supplements, although these products are typically consumed in much smaller quantities than food. Among food and beverage products, the highest antioxidant concentrations were found in berries, fruits, nuts, chocolate and vegetables. Overall, the researchers found that plant-based foods were significantly higher in antioxidants than animal-based foods.
The highest antioxidant content was found in berries not commonly eaten in the West, including dried amla (Indian gooseberry), dog rose (Rosa canina), bilberries (Vaccinum myrtillus), and zereshk (red sour berries). These were followed by fresh crowberries, black currants, wild strawberries, blackberries, goji berries, sea buckthorn and cranberries. Among berry products, jams were found to be lowest in antioxidants.
Although berries commonly eaten in the West might rank low when compared with other berries, they are still among the most antioxidant rich foods available.
Among other fruits and vegetables, antioxidant content was lowest in celery and watermelon and highest in pomegranate and the leaves of the African baobab tree. Other antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables included dried apples, plums and apricots, artichokes, curly kale, chilis, prunes, and okra flour.
Sources for this article include: