You likely know matcha green tea, blueberries, dark chocolate, and red wine are packed with antioxidants, but exactly what are antioxidants and how can they help boost overall well-being? We’ve got you covered.
What is an antioxidant?
“Antioxidant” is not so much the name of a substance or compound but a description of what a range of substances can do - neutralize free radicals and help protect cells from damage.
Wait...but what are free radicals?
Free radicals contain an unpaired electron in their chemical structure, making them highly unstable and reactive in the body. Left unaddressed, excess free radicals in the body can contribute to oxidative stress and numerous health conditions. Antioxidants, however, can neutralize free radicals by acting as stable electron donors. (7)(12)
Infusing water with different fruits and teas such as lemon and matcha green tea is a great and sweet way to boost antioxidants into your diet.
The connection between oxidative stress and chronic illness
Although free radicals are produced in the body, lifestyle and environmental factors can accelerate their production. These factors include pesticides, tobacco, alcohol, stress, air pollution, insufficient sleep, UV rays, radiation, certain prescription medications, and substances found in fried foods. (16)
When free radicals accumulate and go unchecked, they often cause a cascade of reactions leading to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress increases your risk of atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other chronic conditions. (7)
The good news is that we’re not defenseless against free radicals. Along with the antioxidants produced by your body, consuming antioxidant-rich foods may help lower free radical levels. (7) Eating a diet rich in exogenous antioxidants has been shown to help neutralize free radicals, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and boost overall health. (12)
Did you know? The body makes its own antioxidants, called endogenous antioxidants. Antioxidants from outside the body are known as exogenous. (14)
You can increase your intake of antioxidants by eating a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Breaking down different types of dietary antioxidants:
Antioxidants found in food can be grouped into two general categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble antioxidants. Fat-soluble antioxidants perform their functions in cell membranes, while water-soluble antioxidants act primarily in the fluid inside and outside cells.
Furthermore, antioxidants may be categorized as a nutrient or non-nutrient antioxidants. Vitamins A, C, and E and the minerals copper, zinc, and selenium are examples of micronutrients with antioxidant effects. Other dietary food compounds known as the non-nutrient antioxidants, such as lycopene, a phytochemical found in tomatoes, may have an even more significant antioxidative effect. (5)(15)
A common misconception is that all antioxidants are interchangeable. They are not! Each antioxidant has unique biological properties and chemical behaviors. (11) Different antioxidants provide a diverse range of health benefits beyond neutralizing free radicals. For example, lutein, which is found in spinach, has been linked to a lower incidence of eye lens degeneration and associated blindness in the elderly. This is why it’s so important to incorporate various foods into your diet. (10)
Men who eat plenty of the antioxidant lycopene (which is found in tomatoes) may be less likely to develop prostate cancer. (8)
Did you know? Flavonoids, such as the tea catechins found in green tea, are believed to contribute to the low rates of heart disease in Japan. (3)
How do you measure and test antioxidant levels?
Scientists have used different methods to measure the antioxidant power of foods and dietary supplements.
The ORAC score
ORAC, which stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity, was a lab test once used that measured the ability of a food or supplement to neutralize oxygen-free radicals. The higher the score, the higher the antioxidant power.
However, the USDA pulled its ORAC database off its public website, citing two main reasons: advertisers routinely misused it. More human clinical trials are needed to support its health claims. (4)
A more current testing method used for antioxidant levels is the ferric reducing ability of plasma (FRAP) analysis method. This test measures the antioxidant content of foods by how well the food was shown to neutralize a specific free radical. (1)
Combining matcha and blueberries in your recipes is a great flavor pairing and powerhouse packed full of antioxidants. Testing has shown both blueberries and matcha powder are extremely high in healthful antioxidants.
Foods highest in antioxidants, arranged by food group
Interested in learning about more foods that are high in antioxidants?
Matcha green tea powder: When it comes to antioxidant levels, matcha deserves to be in a category all by itself. Matcha green tea has by far the highest ORAC rating of any natural antioxidant source. With roughly 1300 units in per gram, matcha contains more antioxidants than all of the other antioxidant-rich foods combined.
A 2010 report published in the Nutrition Journal analyzed the antioxidant content of over 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs, and supplements, providing an excellent guide to antioxidant-rich foods by food groups.
The plant-based foods listed below were found to offer the most abundant source of antioxidants.
Fruits: acai berries, cranberries, red grapes, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, figs, cherries, pears, guava, oranges, apricots, mango, red grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya, and tomatoes.
Vegetables: broccoli, spinach, carrots, and potatoes are all high in antioxidants, and so are artichokes, cabbage, asparagus, avocados, beetroot, radish, lettuce, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, collard greens, and kale. (2)
Did you know? To reap the benefits of antioxidants, vegetables are best consumed raw, microwaved, or lightly steamed. It’s not a good idea to heavily bake, pressure cook, or boil them. (9)
Spices: cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cumin, parsley, basil, curry powder, mustard seed, ginger, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic, coriander, onion, and cardamom.
Herbs: sage, thyme, marjoram, tarragon, peppermint, oregano, savory, basil, Indian Winter cherry, and dill weed.
Cereals and nuts: oatmeal, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, and even peanut butter.
Beverages: Green tea (which includes matcha!), espresso, red wine, pomegranate juice, apple juice, grape juice, prune juice, tomato juice, pink grapefruit juice, green, black, and plain tea. (2)
Real, whole foods are always better than any artificial option when it comes to antioxidants. A study on blood orange juice found it had significantly higher antioxidant power than sugar water with the same amount of vitamin C. (6)
Can you have too many antioxidants?
Having a healthy amount of antioxidants is critical to overall well-being, but keep in mind more is not always better. An overload of antioxidants can actually be harmful in the form of antioxidant supplementation.
You can get a low-dose supplementation of antioxidants from your daily multivitamin, but be wary of overdoing it. Studies have shown that taking high doses of antioxidant supplements can promote instead of prevent oxidative damage. Some studies have even shown an excessively high intake of antioxidant supplements increases the risk of death. (16)
So when it comes to antioxidants, you want to opt for natural sources, such as matcha tea.
Did you know? Large doses of vitamin E - over 400 IUs daily - have been linked to a possible increase in overall mortality. But, this risk doesn’t apply to a typical multivitamin.
Research has shown that consuming a diet rich in many fruits and vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods such as matcha green tea powder is a very effective way to absorb antioxidants. (1)
The bottom line - taste the rainbow and drink your matcha
As a general rule of thumb, vibrantly colored teas, vegetables, fruits, and herbs are excellent sources of antioxidants.
Research has shown that the best strategy to ensure you are getting all the antioxidants you need to promote optimal health is to consume more natural nutrients found in whole foods. (13) And when it comes to adding antioxidants to your diet, quality-grade matcha is one of the strongest natural sources you can find.
Are you interested in drinking matcha daily to reap the antioxidant-rich benefits and more? Check out our page where we break down all the different health benefits of matcha and more here.
- Benzie, I. F. F., & Strain, J. J. (1996). The ferric reducing ability of plasma (FRAP) as a measure of “Antioxidant Power”: The FRAP assay. Analytical Biochemistry, 239(1), 70–76.
- Carlsen, M. H., Halvorsen, B. L., Holte, K., Bøhn, S. K., Dragland, S., Sampson, L., … Blomhoff, R. (2010). The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements is used worldwide. Nutrition Journal, 9(1).
- Chacko, S. M., Thambi, P. T., Kuttan, R., & Nishigaki, I. (2010). Beneficial effects of green tea: A literature review. Chinese Medicine, 5, 13.
- Cunningham, E. (2013). What has happened to the ORAC database? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113(5), 740.
- Crichton, G. E., Bryan, J., & Murphy, K. J. (2013). Dietary antioxidants, cognitive function and dementia: A systematic review. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 68(3), 279–292.
- Guarnieri, S., Riso, P., & Porrini, M. (2007). Orange juice vs vitamin C: Effect on hydrogen peroxide-induced DNA damage in mononuclear blood cells. British Journal of Nutrition, 97(4), 639–643.
- Hajhashemi, V., Vaseghi, G., Pourfarzam, M., & Abdollahi, A. (2010). Are antioxidants helpful for disease prevention?. Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences, 5(1), 1–8.
- Jain, M. G., Hislop, G. T., Howe, G. R., & Ghadirian, P. (1999). Plant foods, antioxidants, and prostate cancer risk: Findings from case-control studies in Canada. Nutrition and Cancer, 34(2), 173–184.
- Jiménez-Monreal, A. M., García-Diz, L., Martínez-Tomé, M., Mariscal, M., & Murcia, M. A. (2009). Influence of cooking methods on antioxidant activity of vegetables. Journal of Food Science, 74(3), H97–H103.
- Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(8).
- Lü, J. M., Lin, P. H., Yao, Q., & Chen, C. (2010). Chemical and molecular mechanisms of antioxidants: experimental approaches and model systems. Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, 14(4), 840–860.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2010). Antioxidants and health. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/sites/nccam.nih.gov/files/Antioxidants_09-15-2015.pdf
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2013). Antioxidants: In-depth. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm
- Roehrs, M., Valentini, J., Paniz, C., Moro, A., Charão, M., Bulcão, R., … Garcia, S. C. (2011). The relationships between exogenous and endogenous antioxidants with the lipid profile and oxidative damage in hemodialysis patients. BMC Nephrology, 12, 59.
- Serafini, M., & Peluso, I. (2017). Functional foods for health: The interrelated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory role of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and cocoa in humans. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 22(44), 6701–6715.
- Turpeinen, A.M., Basu, S., & Mutanen, M. (1998). A high linoleic acid diet increases oxidative stress in vivo and affects nitric oxide metabolism in humans. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids, 59(3), 229-33.