So how about those antioxidants?  What are they and how do they affect us?  Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radical damage may lead to cancer.  Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals and may prevent some of the damage free radicals might otherwise cause. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins C, E, and A, and other substances.

Considerable laboratory evidence from chemical, cell culture, and animal studies indicates that antioxidants may slow or possibly prevent the development of cancer. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals as the natural by-product of normal cell processes. Free radicals are molecules with incomplete electron shells, which make them more chemically reactive than those with complete electron shells.

Exposure to various environmental factors, including tobacco smoke and radiation, can also lead to free radical formation. In humans, the most common form of free radicals is oxygen. When an oxygen molecule (O2) becomes electrically charged or “radicalized” it tries to steal electrons from other molecules, causing damage to the DNA and other molecules. Over time, such damage may become irreversible and lead to disease including cancer. Antioxidants are often described as “mopping up” free radicals, meaning they neutralize the electrical charge and prevent the free radical from taking electrons from other molecules.

According to USDA chemist Ronald L. Prior, the total antioxidant capacity of the foods does not necessarily reflect their health benefit. Benefits depend on how the food’s antioxidants are absorbed and utilized in the body. Still, this chart should help consumers trying to add more antioxidants to their daily diet.
(Chart Source: WebMD)

RankFood itemServing sizeTotal antioxidant capacity
per serving size
1Small Red Bean (dried)Half cup13,727
2Wild blueberry1 cup13,427
3Red kidney bean (dried)Half cup13,259
4Pinto beanHalf cup11,864
5Blueberry (cultivated)1 cup9,019
6Cranberry1 cup (whole)8,983
7Artichoke (cooked)1 cup (hearts)7,904
8Blackberry1 cup7,701
9PruneHalf cup7,291
10Raspberry1 cup6,058
11Strawberry1 cup5,938
12Red Delicious apple1 whole5,900
13Granny Smith apple1 whole5,381
14Pecan1 ounce5,095
15Sweet cherry1 cup4,873
16Black plum1 whole4,844
17Russet potato (cooked)1 whole4,649
18Black bean (dried)Half cup4,181
19Plum1 whole4,118
20Gala apple1 whole3,903