Antioxidants – What You Need to Know
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Your body’s cells face threats every day. Viruses and infections attack them. Free radicals also can damage your cells and DNA. Some cells can heal from the damage, while others cannot. Scientists believe molecules called free radicals can contribute to the aging process. They also may play a part in diseases, like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Antioxidants are chemicals that help stop or limit damage caused by free radicals. Your body uses antioxidants to balance free radicals. This keeps them from causing damage to other cells. Antioxidants can protect and reverse some of the damage. They also boost your immunity.
Path to improved health
Free radicals are natural or man-made elements. They can be:
- Chemicals your body produces by turning food into energy.
- Environmental toxins, like tobacco, alcohol, and pollution.
- Ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds.
- Substances found in processed food.
You can help fight and reduce free radicals and the damage they cause. You can stop smoking, get sun exposure safely, and eat healthy. Antioxidants may also help.
Your body produces some antioxidants. The best way to get antioxidants is through certain foods and vitamins. Common antioxidants include:
- vitamin A
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
You can get most of these antioxidants by eating a healthy diet. This includes a mix of colorful fruits and vegetables. Whole grains, seeds, and nuts also provide good nutrients.
- Vitamin A is found in milk, liver, butter and eggs.
- Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables. Those with the highest amounts of vitamin C include papayas, strawberries, oranges, cantaloupe and kiwi, as well as bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cauliflower and kale.
- Vitamin E is found in some nuts and seeds, including almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts and peanuts. It can also be found in green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, and in oils, such as soybean, sunflower, corn and canola oils.
- Beta-carotene is found in colorful fruits and vegetables, including carrots, peas, cantaloupe, papayas, mangoes, peaches, pumpkin, apricots, broccoli, sweet potatoes and squash. It can also be found in some leafy green vegetables, including beet greens, spinach and kale.
- Lutein is found in green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collards and kale, broccoli, corn, peas, papayas and oranges.
- Lycopene is found in pink and red fruits and vegetables, such as pink grapefruit, watermelon, apricots and tomatoes.
- Selenium is found in cereals (corn, wheat and rice), nuts, legumes, animal products (beef, fish, turkey, chicken, eggs and cheese), bread and pasta.
While foods that are rich in vitamin E and beta-carotene are very healthy and help reduce cancer risk, the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care does not recommend taking vitamin E or beta-carotene supplements for the prevention of cancer. People who smoke or have a high risk for lung cancer should not take supplemental beta-carotene because it can increase the risk of lung cancer.
Things to consider
Healthcare providers recommend eating a balanced diet that include fresh fruits and vegetables. A lot of produce has natural antioxidants. It also contains minerals, fiber, and other vitamins. Eating healthy can help lower your risk of certain diseases. However, antioxidants alone do not prevent chronic conditions.
Talk to your healthcare provider before taking high doses of antioxidants. He or she can help you determine what, if any, supplements are right for you.