Antioxidant-Rich Superfoods for Optimal Health

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on May 22, 2024
6 min read

Superfoods are foods that are very healthy because they’re packed with nutrients and other good things for your body, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They tend to be whole foods that are low in calories but still have plenty of health benefits, including better heart health, cancer prevention, and lower inflammation.

What makes a superfood a superfood?

Superfoods don’t have their own nutritional category, so there isn’t a checklist for recognizing them or measuring their health benefits. Generally, superfoods are high in antioxidants — natural compounds that help protect your cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Your body creates free radicals when it’s exposed to things such as tobacco smoke, sunlight, or air pollution, but they also form as a normal response to infections or exercise. Antioxidants have the power to neutralize these molecules, which stops them from damaging other cells. Eating foods that are high in antioxidants may make you less likely to get certain diseases.

There are hundreds of substances that can act as antioxidants, but some of the most common ones include:

Beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a type of colored pigment called a carotenoid that gives fruits and vegetables — such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and apricots — their reddish-purple color. Your body uses beta-carotene to make vitamin A. Other types of carotenoids are equally good for you.

Vitamin C. Many fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, including citrus, berries, broccoli, and spinach.

Vitamin E. Found in plant-based oils, nuts, dairy, meats and leafy greens.

Zinc. Most seafood, lean meat milk, and nuts contain zinc.

Other vitamins and minerals, such as selenium and manganese (both found in lean meats) as well as vitamin A, can also be a good source of antioxidants.

Leafy greens

Dark leafy green vegetables, such as arugula, spinach, kale, and swiss chard, are a good source of the antioxidants vitamin C and carotenoids. They’re also a source of vitamin K, which isn’t usually thought of as an antioxidant, but still has some of the same functions. Healthy fats help your body absorb vitamin K and carotenoids, so it’s best to eat leafy greens with a plant-based oil — either as part of a salad dressing or added to the pan when cooking. 


Berries of all kinds have large amounts of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E. They are also a good source of the mineral manganese and are packed full of antioxidant compounds called phenolic acids. Frozen or fresh berries work well in smoothies, salads, and oatmeal.

Colorful fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables get their color from carotenoids, which are antioxidants. The more colorful your produce is, the more health benefits it usually has. Fruits and veggies that are red, yellow, or orange tend to be higher in vitamins A and C, while green usually has more vitamin K. You should aim to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fats and vitamin E. They're also a rich source of polyphenols. Walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts have the most antioxidants of all the tree nuts, but almonds, pine nuts, and hazelnuts are also rich in vitamin E. You can eat nuts as a healthy snack, mix them into salads or stir-fries, or have them as unsweetened, unsalted spreads like nut butter. Salted nuts are high in sodium, so try to choose raw or unsalted roasted ones.


Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas are high in phenolic compounds and the antioxidant minerals copper, manganese, and zinc. They taste great added to chili, soups, and curries. Hummus can also be an easy way to add more legumes to your diet.

Herbs and spices 

Herbs and spices are usually enjoyed in small amounts, but they can still be a good source of antioxidants — mainly, flavonoids and phenolic acids. When it comes to dried spices, one study found that cloves had the most antioxidants, followed by peppermint, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, saffron, and estragon. Parsley and cumin are also a good source of flavonoids. Both dried and fresh herbs are a great addition to any meal.


In the US, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the average person’s diet. It contains both flavonoids and phenolic acids. One study found that medium-roasted coffee beans have the most antioxidants. Coffee is good for you, but too much caffeine isn't. Experts recommend that you drink no more than four cups of caffeinated coffee per day.

Black and green tea 

Both green and black tea have high amounts of antioxidant compounds called flavonoids and theaflavin. Research shows that green tea has more of these beneficial compounds than black tea. It also contains vitamins C and E. Like coffee, green and black tea have caffeine, so you should drink them in moderation.

Red wine 

Red wine is high in polyphenols found in grapes. Some studies have linked red wine to heart health and disease prevention, but more research is needed to confirm this. You shouldn’t start drinking as a way to get more antioxidants, but a glass of red wine with dinner every now and then is perfectly safe.

Dark chocolate 

The main antioxidants in cocoa beans are polyphenols and flavonoids. Dark chocolate, due to its higher cocoa content, offers more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. For the most health benefits, choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or more. It has less sugar and is a more concentrated source of antioxidants.


Eggs are packed with the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Egg yolks also have a lot of vitamins A, E, and K. One study found that eating two eggs per day can provide about 10%-30% of the vitamins your body needs. Eggs are versatile — you can eat them scrambled, boiled, poached, or mixed into a salad or a stir-fry.


The antioxidant astaxanthin, which is a carotenoid, gives salmon its pink color. Salmon is one of the few foods in a typical American diet that has astaxanthin. It’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and boost heart health. Experts recommend eating at least two servings of fatty fish such as salmon each week.

If you want to eat more superfoods, a good place to start is by adding more color to your plate. Try to choose a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains every day, selecting fresh produce whenever possible. If you like to cook, experimenting with different cuisines can be a good way to discover new antioxidant-rich ingredients. Cooking at home also gives you more control over your ingredients and allows you to make healthier choices.

Effects of cooking on antioxidants

Cooking some foods can help your body absorb their antioxidants more easily. Cooked tomatoes, for example, have more of the antioxidant lycopene than raw ones. Foods that have carotenes (mainly, red, yellow, and orange vegetables, such as carrots and kale), also contain antioxidants that your body can absorb more easily if you eat them cooked.

Frozen vs. fresh foods 

Freezing fruits and vegetables can cause them to lose some of their nutrients, but they’re still a great and often more budget-friendly way to increase your antioxidants.

Superfoods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Adding superfoods to your diet is a good way to improve your health and prevent some diseases. Try to choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get more of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs.

What are the best superfood fruits?

Of the most common fruits in the US, blueberries have the highest antioxidant content.

What is the healthiest food in the world?

One study ranked foods based on their nutrient density and put cruciferous vegetables (such as watercress and Chinese cabbage) and leafy greens (such as chard and spinach) at the top of the list. 

What are the 7 superfood spices to eat every day?

Cloves, peppermint, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and sage are the spices that have the most antioxidants and can be easily added to your home-cooked meals.