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What Are Antioxidants? Where Can I Find Them?

Aug 31, 2009

Antioxidants are nutrients that can slow oxidative damage to our body's tissues. Antioxidants can help prevent cancer and a range of other health problems. They are found in fruits and vegetables, especially in the skin of fruits and vegetables. Some antioxidants, such as phytochemicals, are found in beverages such as wine and tea. 

What Antioxidants Are and How They Can Help You

Antioxidants are part of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients present in foods. They are most common in plant foods with bright, distinctive colors, such as red cherries, orange carrots and purple blueberries (for instance). The most common antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, beta carotene, selenium and lycopene.

Oxidation, a natural process that occurs within your body's cells, can produce reactive substances called free radicals. Free radicals can damage your body's cells. Antioxidants can stabilize free radicals before they damage your body's cells. Oxidation is a natural process, so a diet rich in antioxidants is necessary for optimal health.

Your body's defenses against oxidative stress, or the damage caused by free radicals, become less effective with age. Research suggests that oxidative stress caused by free radicals is responsible for a number of degenerative illnesses associated with the aging process. Cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease are just a few of these degenerative illnesses. Furthermore, aging and chronic disease can cause an increase in free radical production, worsening the damage your cells sustain due to oxidative stress.

The Most Common Antioxidants and Where to Find Them

Some of the most common antioxidants, and the foods which contain them, are:

  • Vitamin A and Carotenoids, which are found in carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apples.
  • Vitamin C, which is found in citrus fruits, green peppers, leafy green vegetables, strawberries and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin E, which is found in nuts and seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oil and liver oil.
  • Selenium, which is found in fish, shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic.

Some other common antioxidants include:

  • Flavoniods and polyphenols, which are found in soy, red wine, purple and red grapes, pomegranates, cranberries and tea.
  • Lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon.
  • Lutein, which is found in dark green vegetables such as kale, kiwi, broccoli, brussels sprouts and spinach.
  • Lignan, which is found in flax seed, oatmeal, barley and rye.

Minimizing Oxidative Stress

Eating plenty of antioxidants is one of the best ways to prevent oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Five daily servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended to reduce your risk of degenerative diseases such as stroke, cancer and cardiovascular disease by up to 25%. In addition to eating five daily servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, you can minimize oxidative stress by avoiding cigarette smoking and alcohol, and by wearing sunblock.

Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet is easy. Try having a fruit salad for dessert or take chopped up vegetables to work for a snack. Include vegetables with your main meals. Avoid juices made from concentrate; if possible, make your own juices at home.

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