You are right: antioxidants are of extreme importance for maintaining and sustaining a healthy body.
They provide protection for your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food and by environmental exposures like smog, chemicals in our food and water, and radiation (from the sun and manmade). Free radicals can damage cells and lead to many other many serious diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Consuming whole foods (organic) are the preferred way of boosting your antioxidant levels. This is because the contain many various antioxidants as opposed to a supplement, that only contains only one or two isolated antioxidant compounds. Whole foods are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Even if a processed food has been enriched or fortified (vitamins or minerals added), it is not the same as consuming the food in it natural form.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) conducted a study in 2004 researching the foods that had the highest level of antioxidants. They tested well over one hundred foods. Do keep in mind, though, these results do not include many of the super foods such as exotic fruits (acai, goji berry), herbs (turmeric, rosemary, oregano), flowers (rose hips) medicinal mushrooms, or seaweed/chlorella. These super foods can boast extremely high antioxidant levels. But as far as the most common fruits, vegetables and nuts here are the top 20:
- Small red bean (dried), 1/2 cup
- Wild blueberry, 1 cup
- Red kidney bean (dried), 1/2 cup[
- Pinto bean, 1/2 cup
- Blueberry (cultivated), 1 cup
- Cranberry, 1 cup (whole)
- Artichoke (cooked hearts), 1 cup
- Blackberry, 1 cup
- Prune, 1/2 cup
- Raspberry, 1 cup
- Strawberry, 1 cup
- Red delicious apple, 1
- Granny Smith apple, 1
- Pecan, 1 ounce
- Sweet cherry, 1 cup
- Black plum, 1
- Russet potato, 1 cooked
- Black bean (dried), 1/2 cup
- Plum, 1
- Gala apple, 1
If these foods do not seem appealing to you, taking a supplement with a high ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is always an option. Chances are though, these will be a much welcomed complement to your diet!