Nutrition and Healthy Eating: All About Antioxidants

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Source of article: Nutrition and Healthy Eating: All About Antioxidants

Reviewed By: Jennifer Robinson, MD

What Are Antioxidants?

 

They're chemicals that fight a process in your cells called oxidation.

 

They’re chemicals that fight a process in your cells called oxidation. The main source is plant-based foods, but your body makes some, too. You’re probably familiar with vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and the minerals selenium and manganese. Plant nutrients and chemicals like flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols, and phytoestrogens are also antioxidants.

What Do Antioxidants Do?

 

These chemicals cause the oxidation process that damages your cells and the genetic material inside them.

 

Each one works differently. Together they form a team that fights free radicals. These chemicals cause the oxidation process that damages your cells and the genetic material inside them. Your body makes free radicals as it processes food, sunlight, and toxins like smoke, pollution, and alcohol. Antioxidants either stop free radicals before they form or break them down so they’re harmless.

Vitamin E

 

This antioxidant is stored in fat.

 

This antioxidant is stored in fat (you may hear it called fat-soluble). It fights off free radicals that attack fats in your cell walls. It may also stop LDL cholesterol from turning into a form that could harden your arteries (your doctor may call it oxidized) and lead to cardiovascular disease.

Where to get it: Whole grains, vegetable oils (olive, sunflower, canola), nuts, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C

 

Also known as ascorbic acid, it's stored in water.

 

Also known as ascorbic acid, it’s stored in water (you may hear it called water-soluble). It may help prevent cancers of the stomach, lung, and digestive system.

Where to get it: Green vegetables, tomatoes, and citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits. Choose raw foods because cooking may destroy it.

Beta-carotene

 

Your body turns it into retinol, which helps you see.

 

It’s a fat-soluble carotenoid (those are the yellow, orange, and red pigments in vegetables and fruits). Your body turns it into retinol, which helps you see. It may be dangerous when taken in supplement form, so it’s best when it comes from food.

Where to get it: Fruits, grains, carrots, squash, spinach, and other green vegetables.

Lycopene

 

This carotenoid may help protect against prostate, lung, and breast cancer.

 

This carotenoid may help protect against prostate, lung, and breast cancer.

Where to get it: Cooked and processed tomatoes are a good and common source: Think marinara sauce on your pasta. Heating the tomatoes makes it easier for your body to absorb the lycopene. Add a bit of fat like olive oil to further help your body use this nutrient.

Selenium

 

Found in soil and water, this mineral helps your thyroid work.

 

Found in soil and water, this mineral helps your thyroid work. Research suggests it can help protect against cancer, especially of the lung, colon, and prostate. It’s easy to get too much if you take it as a supplement. That can lead to digestive problems, hair and nail loss, and even cirrhosis of the liver.

Where to get it: Grains, onions, garlic, nuts, soybeans, seafood, meat, and liver.

Flavonoids

 

Scientists know about more than 4,000 of these antioxidants found in fruits and veggies.

 

Scientists know about more than 4,000 of these antioxidants found in fruits and veggies. Every plant contains a different flavonoid combination. They may help protect against heart disease, cancer, arthritis, aging, cataracts, memory loss, stroke, inflammation, and infection.

Where to get them: Green tea, grapes, red wine, apples, chocolate, and berries.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

 

Omega-3s help protect against heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cataracts, and cancer.

 

Omega-3s help protect against heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cataracts, and cancer. Omega-6s help improve eczema, psoriasis, and osteoporosis. Your body can’t make these essential fatty acids, which help stop inflammation. And most Americans get far more omega 6 in their diet and far less omega 3 than they need. Eating less omega 6 and more omega 3 is a recommended goal for many. Just keep in mind that a balanced ratio is four parts omega-6 to 1 part omega 3. There are supplements, but it’s better when these fatty acids come from food.

Where to get them:

  • Omega-3s: Salmon, tuna, sardines, walnuts
  • Omega-6s: Vegetable oils, nuts, poultry

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