Michael Castleman

So now you’re probably thinking, “Okay, okay, I get it. I should eat more fruits and vegetables. So which fruits and vegetables should I eat?” Again, the answer is astoundingly simple: All of them! The primary reason fruits and vegetables are so good for you is that they contain antioxidants -- vital nutrients that combat the oxidative damage that leads to deadly diseases. Perhaps you’ve heard about the wonders of lycopene or selenium or glutathione? Well, they’re all antioxidants. And “the foods richest in antioxidants are vegetables and fruits, which is why plant foods are so important,” says Dean Ornish, M.D., of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif.

Why Antioxidants Are so Good for You

“Oxi” refers to oxygen, which is absolutely essential for life. But oxygen also has a nasty downside. Normal physiological processes -- everything from breathing to digesting food to working out at the gym -- plus factors like smoking, alcohol abuse and a diet high in animal fat, turn some of the body’s chemically stable oxygen molecules into highly reactive oxygen ions. Also called oxygen radicals or free radicals, these ions cause microscopic injuries to your arteries, which trigger the formation of deposits. Over several decades, these deposits narrow your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke, explains Dr. Ornish. Oxygen ions also damage DNA, the molecules that govern your genes. Over time, DNA damage manifests as cancer.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to minimize oxidative damage. Antioxidant vitamins, minerals and other nutrients neutralize oxygen ions, halting and repairing the damage they cause. Supplements are one way to get these crucial nutrients. But antioxidants are more readily available -- not to mention cheaper, tastier and more effective -- when consumed in food.

The Best of the Bunch

So the next time you’re at the supermarket, spend some quality time in the produce section. All fruits and vegetables count toward the five-to-nine-a-day goal, and eating a variety is best. But if you’re dying to know which ones offer the biggest disease-fighting punch, here are the top 36 antioxidant-rich plant foods:

Can’t be beat

Prunes (dried plums), raisins, blueberries, blackberries, artichokes

Extremely good

Garlic, kale, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, brussels sprouts, raspberries

Very good

Plums, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, radish, leek, beets, red pepper, onion, corn, eggplant, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce

Don’t discount these, they’re good for you, too

Asparagus, green peppers, yellow peppers, squash, tomatoes, beets, oranges, cherries, kiwifruits, baked beans

So have some fruit with breakfast. Have generous helpings of vegetables at lunch and dinner. Snack on fruit between meals and have fruit for dessert! Says Amy Lanou, Ph.D., assistant professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina, Asheville: “For optimal health, a plant-based diet is the way to go. The more vegetables and fruits you eat, the better!”






How Antioxidants Can Save Your Life