Antioxidants are magic food components. Research shows that these substances could help the body fight cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease by thwarting the action of harmful free radicals.
But which foods are the real antioxidant bombs? Norwegian and US scientists compiled an extensive list. In terms of the highest antioxidant content per serving, the winners were:
5,75 millimoles per 100g serving
This wonderfully delectable summer fruit came out tops. Blackberries give an antioxidant kick of 5,75 millimoles per serving.
Blackberries are also fat-free, and a source of folic acid and vitamin C, so there's no holding back. Whip them into smoothies, make a wicked fruit coulis to serve with desserts, or simply have them fresh.
You can freeze blackberries and use them all year round. This can be done by coating the berries with a mixture of sugar and ascorbic acid (ask your pharmacist), but it is generally better to freeze lightly boiled berries to which sugar has been added.
3,72 millimoles per 100g serving
Nuts are great health foods – they're cholesterol-free, generally low in sodium and a great source of vitamins and minerals. But in terms of antioxidant content, walnuts seem to beat the rest of the nut family with 3,72 millimoles per serving.
Toss these nuts into salads, mix them into muesli, or include them in rice pudding or apple tart.
Just make sure that you have no more than a handful of walnuts per day. If you're overweight, cut this amount to a handful no more than three times per week.
3,58 millimoles per 100g serving
Strawberries are sexy, fun and – best of all – so low in calories that you can eat as much as you like without giving your weight a second thought.
These fruits should also form part of your diet for another reason: they're packed with antioxidants and clock in at 3,58 millimoles of these health-boosting components per 100g serving.
There's no need to tell you that strawberries are a great addition to desserts, smoothies, salads, and even cocktails – just make sure you eat them as fresh as possible.
4. Artichokes, cooked
3,56 millimoles per 100g serving
The humble artichoke also made the top-10 list. Apart from the 3,56 millimole/100g antioxidant punch, artichokes are a good source of iron.
These veggies also help to reduce bowel upsets and help to let good bacteria flourish in your gut.
Cook artichokes for 20 minutes with a slice or two of lemon, a bay leaf and salt. The leaves and the heart can then be eaten.
3,13 millimoles per 100g serving
The cranberry really is a super-food. Numerous studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory properties of this fruit can help to prevent and treat urinary tract, and possibly other, infections.
One reason why cranberries are so healthy, is because of their high antioxidant content (3,13 millimoles per 100g).
As cranberries are generally too tart to eat fresh, go for the canned varieties and use these in both sweet and savoury dishes.
2,87 millimoles per 100g serving
Raspberries have a long history of being used to treat conditions ranging from tonsillitis to stomach aches and also to strengthening the womb in pregnancy.
Now we know that these berries are not only a good source of antioxidants (2,87 millimoles per 100g serving), but are also high in vitamin C.
Ask your grocery store if they stock fresh or frozen raspberries, and use them in fruit salads, deserts or eat them with yoghurt for breakfast.
2,68 millimoles per 100g serving
Another berry, this time the blueberry, made the list. This only goes to show that berries really are super foods.
Apart from the high antioxidant content (2,68 millimoles per serving) there is also preliminary evidence that berries can thwart cholesterol and help prevent liver cancer.
Blueberries are not sour and can be eaten raw. This will preserve their vitamin C content.
8. Cloves, ground
2,64 millimoles per 100g serving
Who would have thought that cloves, a great addition to anything from chicken dishes to Christmas mince pies, could have magic health-boosting properties?
Well, this spice made the top 10 antioxidant list – and with good reason. It contains 2,64 millimoles of antioxidants per 100g serving.
While it's more difficult to get your daily antioxidant injection from this spice – simply because we generally use it in small quantities – you should still try to incorporate it in your diet.
9. Grape juice
2,56 millimoles per 100g serving
You already know that a daily glass of wine can kick-start your health. But plain old grape juice seems to be even better – at least when it comes to levels of antioxidants (2,56 millimoles per serving).
Research shows that red grape juice can improve cholesterol levels and inflammatory markers associated with heart disease. This action has been linked to the antioxidant content of the juice.
But be warned: grape juice has a high sugar content and can add quite a few calories to your diet. Don't drink more than one glass of juice, diluted with water, per day.
10. Cranberry juice
2,47 millimoles per 100g serving
As mentioned above, cranberries have strong anti-inflammatory effects and are particularly useful in preventing urinary tract infections.
As fresh, raw cranberries are too tart to eat, cranberry juice is the ideal way to tap the benefits of this fruit.
Try to drink a small glass of cranberry juice every day – especially if you're prone to urinary tract infections. Or combine cranberry juice with iced Rooibos tea for a refreshing summer drink.
Halvorsen BL, Carlsen MH, Phillips KM, Bohn SK, Holte K, Jacobs DR Jr, Blomhoff R. Content of redox-active compounds (ie, antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jul;84(1):95-135.
- (Carine van Rooyen, Health24, updated April 2011)