Antioxidants: Why do I need them? Antioxidants are substances that naturally occur in the body and can also be ingested through food and supplements. They are chemicals that can prevent or slow cell damage. Antioxidants are compounds that can donate electrons to free radicals. Free radicals are atoms with an odd number of electrons that steal electrons from other cells, which in turn causes more free radicals and ultimately result in the damage of cells.
Cellular damage or oxidative stress has been linked to cancer, aging and several diseases. Theoretically, decreasing the damage caused by free-radicals, can reduce your risk of developing disease.
The best source of antioxidants is colorful fruits and vegetables. The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Other important nutrients include zinc and selenium.
- Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon
- Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers
- Vitamin E: broccoli (boiled), avocado, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds
- Zinc: oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, some fortified cereals (check the ingredients to see if zinc has been added), and dairy products
- Selenium : Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry, fortified breads, and other grain products
- Other foods high in anti-oxidants: prunes, apples, raisins, plums, red grapes, alfalfa sprouts, onions, eggplant and beans
There is no proof that anti-oxidants are the “magic bullet” to preventing disease, and supplements can actually overload the body with too many anti-oxidants. Diets high in fruits and vegetables are consistently associated with healthier people. So eat your fruits and veggies! This is never the wrong answer!