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Top 6 Antioxidant Foods to Boost Your Health

These are the best of the best: the most antioxidant rich, anti-inflammatory foods out there. Incorporate some of these items today to start shifting into an Anti-Inflammatory diet to feel better fast.


1. Herbs and Spices

These are basically vegetables on steroids when it comes to antioxidant power. This group also includes coffee and tea, and any concentrated plant extract like natural vanilla or almond extract.

Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin is so anti-inflammatory, it is taken as an alternative or first line treatment for joint pain and headaches before reaching for more traditional meds like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Turmeric isn't alone though - here are some of the other most potent antioxidant herbs on the planet.

  1. Clove - the winner of the antioxidant battle gram for gram. Following in order:

  2. Peppermint

  3. Allspice

  4. Cinnamon

  5. Oregano

  6. Thyme

  7. Sage

  8. Rosemary

  9. Saffron

  10. Tarragon

Both fresh and dried versions of herbs and spices are all very high in antioxidants. There may be some more of the volatile essential oils present in fresh that are missing in dried, but studies show that the dried ones have the most antioxidants ounce for ounce compared to the fresh, so many of them are well preserved even through drying. So do both, and spice it up!


2. Fruits and Vegetables

Most people are familiar with this public service announcement: fruits and veggies are good for you!

I know.

But they have to be on this list as one of the richest sources of antioxidants, and unlike spices, we can eat large amounts of them by themselves (you've heard of the cinnamon challenge, right? Hint: don't do it)

The deeper or brighter the color, the more antioxidants there are.

What many people haven't heard is that the antioxidants ARE the color in fruits and vegetables.

For example, blueberries and blackberries get their dark purply color from a group of antioxidants called anthocyanins. Cyan means blue in Latin, and anthocyanins are also in all the other similar colored plant foods, like black beans and forbidden rice.

Keep in mind this only applies to foods that grew that way, not chemically dyed stuff (I'm looking at you, Blue Takis. Blue 1 is a chemical on the Avoid List)



Resveratrol - protects against all of the above plus Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, liver diseases, and immune system issues.



Some have anthocyanins and resveratrol as well, and all the reds contain:



Beta carotene - converted to Vitamin A by the body, beta carotene in food is also good for skin, eye, lung, and brain health.

Lutein & Zeaxanthin - these two concentrate in our eyes and protect against UV radiation, reducing age related eye damage like cataracts and macular degeneration.



Chlorophyll - In addition to joint, heart, brain, and cancer protection that chlorophyll is providing directly to us, it may also help to recycle other antioxidants in our bodies.



You may have heard that white foods are not good for health, but it really only applies to grains. White flour is usually highly processed, bleached, and devoid of all nutrition except carbs. White rice is essentially a pure starch, clean enough from chemicals but is infamous for spiking blood sugar. What is perfectly good to eat though, are white fruits and vegetables - Cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, pears, dragonfruit, and potatoes (yes, even potatoes and bananas within reason) to name a few.

Anthoxanthins - strong in immune system, cardiovascular, and brain health, protecting against cancer, strokes, and Alzheimer's.

Allium bonus points - Alliums are onions, garlic, and their odiferous relatives. They get their distinct smell from sulfur compounds like allicin, which provides "CVD protection, antioxidant, anticancer, antimicrobial, anti-asthmatic, immunoregulator, blood pressure lowering and antilipidemic" benefits.

Mushroom bonus points - Mushrooms blur the line between food and medicine. All mushrooms have immune system regulating benefits, and most mushrooms have individual extra benefits. Lion's mane mushroom heals brain and nerve damage, while Shiitake, Maitake, Oyster, and others are being studied for their ability to make the body kill cancer cells, reducing cancer risk by 45%. The humble white button and portabella mushrooms encourage healthy sex hormone balance in the body. If you aren't already eating mushrooms, consider blending them up with your next ground meat meal for a health upgrade.


3. Fish, Seafood and other Omega 3 sources

Omega 3s are a surprisingly extensive topic for nutrients with a wide-ranging benefit. I tried writing a blog post about the benefits of Omega 3s and brain health, but found so much information it's becoming an ebook.

I'll try to keep this brief:

Omegas are groups of specialty fatty acids required for a healthy life, each playing different important roles in our bodies. The three groups getting the most attention these days are Omega 3, Omega 6, and Omega 9 fatty acids.

There is a delicate balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 when it comes to inflammation.

Omega 6s are required for healthy inflammation - think of it as the body's first aid for injuries. If you gash your elbow open, Omega 6s help the body swell to stop the bleeding, help the blood to clot, and send white blood cells to fight off any invading bacteria.

Once the first aid emergency is over, Omega 3s take over. They reverse the inflammation process: they calm swelling, soothe white blood cells and send them back to their regular patrols, and boost collagen production to fully heal the skin and take your elbow back to its normal, pre-injury state.

We evolved with an Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio of about 5:1 - for every gram of Omega 3s, we also ate about 5 grams of Omega 6.

The current average American diet is sitting at about a 20-30:1 6/3 ratio, about 4-6 times higher in favor of the more inflammatory Omega 6s.



EPA and DHA are required Omega 3 acids that are mainly found in animal products. EPA is very anti-inflammatory, especially in the body. DHA seems to be a bit stronger for reducing brain inflammation. DPA is a newer Omega 3 also found in animal products that is very anti-inflammatory and beneficial for heart and brain health.

Top Sources:







Cold water fatty fish

Anything else coming out of the ocean - shrimp, crab, oysters, lean ocean dwelling fish like Snapper, Roughy, Cod, Pollock, etc.

Grass fed animal products (small amounts, keep reading for more info)

What if I don't eat seafood?

Vegans or other people that aren't willing to consume seafood or fish oil can source EPA and DHA from a quality algae oil supplement like this one, which is where the fish originally get it from. Since there's no fish, there is no fish flavor or smell.


ALA - Alpha-linolenic acid

ALA is the required Omega 3 that's mainly found in plants. We can turn small amounts of it into EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate isn't good, somewhere between 1 and 15% depending on the person. ALA is anti-inflammatory and great for you in it's own right, it just doesn't replace the EPA or DHA.

Top Sources:

Ground flax or flax oil (we can't digest whole seeds very well)




COLD PRESSED Canola Oil - Canola oil is one of the most common Inflammatory Foods because it is often mass produced as an industrial seed oil, and the Omega 3s it has get burned and become useless.


4. Fresh Animal Products (especially grass fed/pasture raised)

Unprocessed or cleanly processed animal products are a quality source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Grass fed animals have the bonus of a higher Omega 3 ratio and lower amounts of saturated fat, along with extra fat soluble vitamins and minerals.

Contrary to what your old doctor might have told you, fresh red meat has no negative impact on heart health, and there is some argument to fresh red meat actually improving health.

Most of the heart health and cancer concerns are reserved for the highly processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, and Spam (my apologies to delicious Spam, but it's terrible for you.)

Previous studies from the 1960s until about the 2000s lumped all red meat into a single category. When researchers in the 2000s had the bright idea to separate the fresh meat from the processed meat, the fresh red meat had no negative impact on health outcomes. (1)


Grass fed, low temp processed dairy like Kerrygold, Supernatural, or Mill-King

Eggs marked Pasture Raised. Runner ups: Omega-3, Free range, then Cage Free

Grass fed meats (bonus points: organ meats or ground meat with organs blended in, like the Ancestral Blend from Force of Nature)


5. Nuts, Seeds, and Expeller pressed oils (in moderation)

As plants, the delicious fatty plants known as nuts and seeds are also incredibly good for us. In addition to colorful antioxidant phenols, the fatty acids themselves have great anti-inflammatory benefits.

Monounsaturated fat - Omega 9s, aka the Olive's claim to health fame.

Polyunsaturated fat - Omega 3s an Omega 6s, both required for a healthy immune system as discussed above.

Saturated fat - Contrary to popular opinion (based off of questionable research started in the 1960s), modern research shows no association between saturated fat and heart disease. Indeed, certain types of saturated fat like MCTs are quite anti-inflammatory.

MCTs - found mainly in coconut and palm oil, MCTs are a favorite source of fuel for your brain, help control yeast and problematic bacteria like C. Difficile and Staph, and may reduce how much you eat, among other benefits.

Top Sources:



Walnuts and the other ALA rich seeds listed above

Other nuts and seeds like almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

The best anti-inflammatory powers are in the whole versions listed above, but oils are extremely easy to incorporate into cooking so we tend to consume them a bit more regularly.

Adding more fat on top of your current diet is not better. Switching your current fats to these is what makes the health difference.

Top sources: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Cold or Expeller Pressed Avocado Oil

High Oleic Expeller Pressed Sunflower Oil

Cold Pressed Walnut Oil

Cold Pressed Hemp Oil

Cold Pressed Canola Oil

Virgin Coconut oil

Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil

Most other oils with similar hippy sounding extra phrases in front of the oil, usually found in dark or fancy looking bottles.


6. Minimally processed beans and whole grains (in moderation)

Ah grains, the demon previously known as the staff of life.

Grains might arguably be the most important thing in transitioning the human race from hunter gatherers into what is now modern society. Grains and beans allowed for long term food storage without refrigeration, and together form the complete spectrum of amino acids needed for survival, allowing people to stay in one place for as long as they wished instead of following game and seasonal plant foods.

Don't get too excited about the complete protein thing: you have to eat a lot of them to get a bare survival minimum of protein, and the only way to compensate for the high carbs to protein ratio in grains is to be VERY physically active (which our ancestors were, so it worked out).

Keep in mind that excessive carbohydrates are inflammatory in themselves, these guys are higher in carbs, and have a lower antioxidant-to-carb ratio compared to fruit.

That being said, if your physical activity is demanding enough you need more carbs or you're trying to get your carbs at night, whole grains and beans are an excellent, high quality source of them.

Remember to look for color! These colors are the same anti-oxidants in the fruits and veggies.

Top Examples:

Black beans

Wild or Forbidden rice

Dark red kidney beans

Tri-color quinoa

Onyx Sorghum

Red lentils

Beluga lentils

Blue Corn

Red Corn (make sure those red corn tortillas grew that way and not dyed with Red 40)

Yellow Corn

Ancient grains like Kamut, Einkorn, Farro, Teff, Amaranth, Spelt, and similar

If you are going to buy processed versions of these items like cereal, bread, or chips, double check the ingredients list and screen for any sketchy items that may be there.


Comments? Questions? Head on over to The Forum! 

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