Antioxidants – Compounds derived from food


Vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytonutrients – directly bind to harmful free radicals and destroy them. The metabolites that occur during the oxidation process can have an adverse impact on the body structures and functions:

  • they can damage the DNA and cause mutations which can result in cancer;
  • can cause LDL – cholesterol oxidation, which is the first step towards atherosclerosis;
  • also they can cause damage to joints and lead to arthritis.

As researches increasingly show that free radicals play an important role in the etiology of chronic diseases and other signs of aging, such are the loss of skin elasticity and cognitive functions, so antioxidants are getting more important place in the diet which aims to support the health.


Many people have heard about vitamins and minerals which are known for their antioxidant effect. Vitamins A, C and E, as well as minerals selenium, zinc, copper and manganese, are just some of the traditional nutrients that are important in the fight against the harmful effects of the free radicals. These antioxidants do not act alone, but synergistically, they are interdependent with each other and must cooperate in order to obtain the optimum function. Their synergistic relationship is one of the reasons why we should not limit the intake to just some products, but we should consume more different healthy products.


Phytonutrients are special compounds that can be found in plants and they have a tremendous antioxidant effect. The discovery of a wealth of phytonutrients and their impressive abilities to prevent oxidation damages, led the researchers to a conclusion that the presence of these antioxidants is an important reason why a diet based on vegetables, fruits and other products of plant origin, supports the health and reduces the risk of diseases.

The broad range of phytonutrients present in products of plant origin, such are  fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, additionally confirms the fact that these products really contribute to our health. Some researchers estimate that one day they would be able to catalog and do a detailed study of an up to 40000 phytonutrients.

The main groups of phytonutrients having antioxidant function include:
  • Terpenoids: this includes basic terpenoids such as limonene, present in citrus fruit, menthol and carotenoids.
  • Flavonoids: plant pigments which give color to plants. These include anthocyanins in blueberries and quercetin in onions.
  • Isoflavonoids and lignans: for example, genistein and daidzein in soy products, and lignans in flax seeds and rye.
  • Organic acids: for example, ferulic acid present in the whole grains, and coumarins which can be found in parsley and citrus fruit.

Given that many phytonutrients are also the pigments that give color to the plants, one of the criteria upon which you can choose a product is the color. For example, red color signalizes the presence of the lycopene, yellow and orange indicate presence of beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, blue and violet – the presence of anthocyanins, green shows chlorophyll.

Here is a table of the healthiest products and the best sources of antioxidants:
ProductSize of a servingBeta-carotene (% DV)Selenium (% DV)Vitamin A (% DV)Vitamin C (% DV)Vitamin E (% DV)
Asparagus1small plate10874.419.432.43.4
Peppers1small plate20140.4104.9291.33.1
Blueberries1 cup46,41.32.931.47.3
Broccoli1small plate1841345.6205.73.8
Brussels sprouts1small plate7113.322.4161.26.7
Cabbage1small plate111,01.3450.30.8
Melon1small plate32320.9103.2112.51.2
Carrots1small plate73911.9686.318.92.8
Cauliflower1small plate8,70.90.410.70.3
Cayene peper2 spoons7860.529.44.50.8
Collard greens1small plate91473118.957.68.3
Cranberry1/2 cup17,10.40.410.70.3
Green beans1small plate5250.716.620.20.9
Peas1 cup7524.319.137.93.1
Kale1small plate106251.7192.488.85.6
Olives1small plate3191.710.8220.1
Parsley2 spoons384012.616.60.3
Raspberries1 cup14,
Salad2small plates39020.358.244.82.8
Shiitake mushrooms240g/53/10/
Spinach1small plate113183.9294.829.48.6
Strawberries1 cup10,11.40.8136.11
Sunflower1/4 cup/
Sweet potato1small plate230180.8262.228.40.9
Swiss chard1small plate63912.3109.952.516.6
Tomatoes1small plate808122.457.33.4
Watermelon1small plate4670.
Pumpkin1small plate57261.2145.832.81.3
Antioxidants - Compounds derived from food