The Best Antioxidants are Colorful Ones

Jun 30, 2004 04:27 AM EDT

Nutrition scientists at the US Department of Agriculture released a list of the 20 most antioxidant-rich foods this month.

The list, published in the June issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, is, according to the scientists, a relative ranking of the capacity of foods to interfere with or prevent oxidative processes and to eliminate free radicals.

The researchers used the most advanced technologies available to tabulate antioxidant levels in more than 100 different types of fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts and spices.

The Top 20:

1. Small red beans (dried)

2. Wild blueberries

3. Red kidney beans

4. Pinto beans

5. Blueberries (cultivated)

6. Cranberries

7. Artichokes (cooked)

8. Blackberries

9. Prunes

10. Raspberries

11. Strawberries

12. Red delicious apples

13. Granny Smith apples

14. Pecans

15. Sweet cherries

16. Black plums

17. Russet potatoes (cooked)

18. Black beans (dried)

19. Plums

20. Gala apples

Color may be key

The scientists admit that there is still much to learn about antioxidants and why some foods are richer in them than others. For instance, even though the small red bean was the number one pick, there isn’t much information on them. More studies have been conducted on antioxidants in berries—known as anthocyanins—the compounds that give many berries their dark blue or red color.

In fact, color may be key to spotting foods that fight free radicals. Colorful fruits and vegetables are usually rife with antioxidant compounds. For example, lutein is usually found within some of the yellow pigments found in corn; orange signifies carotenoid content found in the likes of cantaloupe, butternut squash and mango; lycopene is found in red colored fruit and vegetables, such as tomatoes and watermelon.


1. R. L. Prior; et al., “Lipophilic and Hydrophilic Antioxidant Capacities of Common Foods in the United States,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2004; 52(12) 4026 – 4037.