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Are Antioxidants Bad or Good for You

It is known that oxidative stress, which is caused by highly reactive “free radical” compounds circulating in the blood, is a factor in most diseases. As dietitians, we often get asked about whether or not taking a huge amount of antioxidant supplements is good for our health.

Observational studies suggested that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, both of which are rich with antioxidants, may reduce the risk of both cancer and heart diseases; however, many medical studies looking at long-term antioxidant supplementation (such as vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A or beta-carotene) and mortality (with a focus on either cancer or heart diseases) found no significant health benefits. Treatment with beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E on the other hand may increase mortality, according to Bjelakovic and colleagues, who completed a meta-analysis of 68 randomized trials.

It is obvious that better diets are associated with better overall health and health habits. Since some nutrients in supplement forms may block the absorption of naturally occurring vitamins, there is no reason to take supplements that has not been proven beneficial, but may also be harmful. 

Recently, many clients asked me about “magical” products (either an expensive type of wild berries or some sorts of high dose antioxidant supplements) recommended by a natural therapist or a naturopath.

First of all, I would like to say that dietitians practise differently from natural therapists and naturopaths, in a way that our practice needs to be evidence-based all the time. It’s proven that a healthy diet with a wide variety of foods offers the most health benefits as it provides our body with a mixture of different natural antioxidants and all other essential nutrients. Therefore, eating only one “magical fruit” that is particularly high in one or a few types of antioxidants will not give you added health benefits compared to eating a diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The key for healthy eating is always “Variety and Moderation”! Something that is good doesn’t mean more is better!

Most fresh plant foods have a high antioxidant content, and some may have more antioxidants than others. Including antioxidant rich food regularly in a healthy diet will offer extra health benefits, either to slow down your aging processes or to reduce your risk of different diseases.

So, let’s leave the high dose antioxidant supplements and those expensive “magical foods” on the shelf!

Antioxidant Rich Food 
(Sources: American Chemical Society. “Largest USDA Study Of Food Antioxidants Reveals Best Sources.” ScienceDaily 17 June 2004.)

  • Blueberries
  • Red kidney beans
  • Cranberries
  • Artichoke
  • Blackberries
  • Prunes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Pecans
  • Cherries
  • Black beans
  • Plums


  1. Bjelakovic G et al. Mortality in randomized trials of antioxidant
    supplements for primary and secondary prevention. JAMA 2007;297:842-57

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