There are many unavoidable realities of life, and stress is one of them. But not just any kind of stress—oxidative stress! This form of stress arises when too many highly unstable molecules, called free radicals, bombard your cells. The body normally produces these molecules in small quantities as a byproduct of metabolism. But, in your day-to-day life, you might often be exposed to excessive amounts of toxins, air pollution, pesticides and sunlight that increase free radical production. Couple these environmental factors with a poor diet, alcohol, smoking, excessive exercise, poor sleep and certain medications, and free radical formation increases even more.
Pictured Recipe: Bircher Muesli
When left unchecked, free radicals can damage your cells and DNA. As a result, long-term oxidative stress can lead to chronic inflammation and disease. But the good news is that there is a solution to oxidative stress. And it requires the consumption of—you guessed it—antioxidants! One way to ensure you are getting enough antioxidants in your diet is to consume a variety of delicious fruits. Below are six of the best antioxidant-rich fruits that can help you ward off oxidative stress and inflammation.
Blueberries take the blue ribbon as one of the top antioxidant-rich fruits on the list. And rightfully so! These remarkable berries contain up to 9 millimoles of antioxidants in a single 3.5-ounce serving, according to a 2010 Antioxidant Food Database published in the Nutrition Journal. But where does this tiny fruit store such a large amount of antioxidants? The answer is their deep blue outer skin: the antioxidants responsible for their distinctive dark-blue hue are powerful, anti-inflammatory compounds called anthocyanins. A 2020 review published in Advances in Nutrition found that people who regularly consume anthocyanin-rich blueberries have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, along with improved weight management and brain functioning. What better way to reap the many health benefits associated with blueberries than by enjoying this Blueberry Baked Oatmeal?
Slice into a pomegranate’s smooth, thick skin, and you will find incredible chambers of juicy, ruby-red seeds (aka arils) that burst with flavor and antioxidants. A 2020 review published in Foods reported that pomegranates have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can lower several inflammatory biomarkers associated with chronic disease. Specifically, the researchers concluded that pomegranates might protect against obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. These health benefits are primarily due to an antioxidant known as punicalagin. According to the Antioxidant Food Database, pomegranates contain up to 9 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces—similar to blueberries. These antioxidant-rich jewels can be enjoyed as a topping on yogurt, or try this Pomegranate, Cranberry & Brie Bruschetta.
3. Tart Cherries
These tart stone fruits contain a wide array of beneficial compounds that have been proven to boost your health. In fact, a 2018 review published in Nutrients—that included 20 studies on tart cherries—found that their high antioxidant concentration is associated with reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. But the cherry on top of the cake is that they’ve also been shown to improve sleep, blood pressure and arthritic pain. The compounds responsible for these impressive benefits include polyphenols, melatonin, carotenoids and vitamins E and C. According to the Antioxidant Food Database, tart cherries contain up to 7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5-ounce serving. You can include this nutrient-packed fruit in your diet by preparing this Anti-Inflammatory Cherry-Spinach Smoothie.
Though commonly called berries, botanically, blackberries are actually a cluster of single-seeded drupelets filled with protective plant compounds. In a 2023 study published in Foods, the researchers found that blackberries contain several antioxidant-rich compounds that can inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory molecules linked to inflammatory conditions. Of the antioxidants present in blackberries, anthocyanins and terpenoids are the most prominent ones. According to the Antioxidant Food Database, 3.5 ounces of blackberries contain 6 mmol of antioxidants. If you are looking to add these gems to your fruit rotation, try this delicious Blackberry Crisp.
5. Goji Berries
Native to Asia, goji berries have a distinctive sweet yet tangy flavor—comparable to cranberries or cherries. These unique berries are characterized by their oblong shape and vivid orange-red pigment—all thanks to compounds called carotenoids. The most common carotenoid in goji berries is zeaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in good vision. A 2019 study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity noted that regularly consuming goji berries increases levels of blood antioxidants and zeaxanthin, which is supportive of eye health. The same study also found that the high antioxidant potential of goji berries also has anti-aging and immune-supporting effects. According to the Antioxidant Food Database, goji berries contain 4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces. Try tossing these tiny but mighty berries into your next batch of trail mix to up your antioxidant intake.
With their velvety red skin and floral aroma, raspberries are loaded with protective antioxidants that ward off disease. According to a 2022 study published in Antioxidants, the major antioxidants present in raspberries include anthocyanins, ellagitannins and vitamin C. The researchers revealed that these compounds may combat oxidative stress and inflammation that promote the development of diseases like cancer. In just 3.5 ounces of raspberries, there is 4 mmol of total antioxidants, per the Antioxidant Food Database. Consider whipping up this Muesli with Raspberries when you are in need of an antioxidant boost.
The Bottom Line
Whether you are looking to protect your cells from harmful free radicals, find relief from chronic inflammation, or aid in disease management, antioxidants are powerful compounds that can significantly improve your health. Although red and purple fruits like blueberries, pomegranates, tart cherries, blackberries, goji berries and raspberries have the highest quantities, antioxidants are also abundant in various plant foods. From fruits to vegetables, nuts and legumes, you can obtain all the antioxidants you need when you consume a balanced diet.