The Great Antioxidant Debate: Supplements or Food?

two hands holding a bunch of blueberries – the health benefits of antioxidants

Unless you’re a sentient head of kale, you’re probably on board with the notion that antioxidants are vital and eating some greens are a great way to get those precious antioxidants into your system. (You’re not a sentient head of kale, are you?) From reducing inflammation to lowering your risk for many chronic diseases, antioxidants are essential. But like with many other healthy substances, too much of a good thing can be bad.  In addition, sometimes, the way you choose to ingest such substances affects whether they ultimately prove beneficial to you or not.

The most common way people get their antioxidants is through antioxidant-rich foods. And of course, there are antioxidant supplements available. But which approach is the best? And do both offer the same advantages? The short answer: antioxidants from food is way better than supplements. Now for the long answer…

The Benefits of Antioxidants (In Case You Don’t Know)

Antioxidants are great because they clean up the free radicals that can build up in our bodies. What are free radicals? Oh, just unstable atoms generated by the metabolism, exposure to sunlight, pollutants, chemicals and tobacco (and, sadly, even routine exercise) that can damage the body on the cellular level. Unfortunately, free radicals—and the related oxidative stress—have been linked to premature aging, cancer, and general inflammation. Thankfully, antioxidants serve to neutralize these free radicals, thus enhancing health and wellness.

Studies have shown that, by clearing up free radicals, antioxidants can reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and aging. Likewise, some reduce bad cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and even preserve youthful skin. Dozens of different antioxidants exist, and most we can obtain through antioxidant-rich foods. So why is it better to get your antioxidants from food and not supplements? Be patient, we’re almost there…

The Best Antioxidant-Rich Foods

The funny thing about healthy food is that it often contains more than one thing that’s healthy for humans to consume. When it comes to antioxidant-rich foods, several vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients may be included. Important ones include vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium.

Antioxidant-rich foods are defined by their “FRAP” analysis score (FRAP stands for ferric reducing antioxidant potential). This analysis quantifies the number of antioxidants in various foods, which equates to greater health benefits. The following are some of the most antioxidant-rich foods based on their FRAP scores:

Dark Chocolate

This has one of the highest FRAP scores, making it one of the most antioxidant-rich foods. It is associated with reducing inflammation, heart disease risk and blood pressure levels.


Along with walnuts and almonds, this is also one of the most antioxidant-rich foods. It has been associated with lowering LDL cholesterol levels and reducing heart disease risk.

Berries and Fruits

Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and Goji berries all offer tremendous health benefits of antioxidants. Apples and oranges should also be included due to their vitamin C and vitamin A content.

Kale, Cabbage, and Spinach

The health benefits of antioxidants in these vegetables include reduced risks for heart disease, cancer, and skin-aging. Also, beets, broccoli and bell peppers have been similarly recognized as antioxidant-rich foods.

To Supplement or Not? That is the Question

While vitamin and mineral supplements are often a good idea, that is not always the case with antioxidants. In fact, antioxidant supplements can actually undermine their health benefits. Specifically, too many antioxidants can reduce exercise performance and increase the risk of some cancers, like bladder and lung cancer. Excessive doses of vitamin A have also been linked to a higher risk of birth defects in pregnant women.

Sadly, the problem with supplements is that they tend to have too high of a concentration of antioxidants. Too make matters worse, antioxidant-rich foods often have other nutritious substances present to improve absorption and their effectiveness.

Thus, eating a variety of antioxidant-rich foods offers the best approach to realizing the array of health advantages they offer.

Better Living through Better Food Choices

An abundance of research now highlights the many health benefits of antioxidants. Similarly, studies are beginning to show how a variety of antioxidant-rich foods can provide the best strategy for wellness. By following such a strategy, you can significantly reduce your risk of disease while improving youthfulness and longevity. So get your antioxidants through food, not supplements.

Unless you’re a sentient head of kale. In that case, you do you.

About the Author

Dawna is a mom of two young kids, puppy lover, ice cream lover, chocolate lover, and lover of any ice cream with chunks of chocolate in it. She is the author of seven books, a business owner, certified health coach, motivational speaker, and creator of the 5-Day Detox and the 14-Day Clean-Eating Program. Dawna appears regularly on local and national television. She has appeared on the Today show, Martha, MSNBC, HSN, and morning news programs on NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Dawna is a highly sought-after speaker and has done speaking engagements for Chobani, Disney, American Heart Association, Mass Mutual, Wharton Business School, Women’s Entertainment Television, PGA Tour, Super Bowl Leadership Forum, Susan G. Komen, and many more.
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