The Health Benefits of Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Unseen battles go on inside you every day. Your body’s cells constantly make toxic waste molecules called free radicals, which arise when cells are exposed to oxygen. This occurs during normal body processes, such as when food is changed into energy. Free radicals are also made when you exercise or are exposed to sunlight, air pollution, cigarette smoke, or alcohol.
In theory, free radicals can trigger a chain reaction that damages your cells and DNA. This may contribute to aging and several diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cataracts, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fortunately, you can combat free radicals. Antioxidants found in many foods can stop these harmful molecules and limit the potential damage to your cells. Antioxidants chemically neutralize toxic free radicals and protect healthy tissues.
Finding antioxidants in food
Many foods contain a huge array of antioxidants. Here are some important ones and where to find them:
Vitamin E: Nuts, seeds, peanut butter, green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, and vegetable oils, such as soy, sunflower, and canola oils
Vitamin C: Kale, cauliflower, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, oranges, strawberries, kiwifruit, and cantaloupe
Beta-carotene: Sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash, apricots, cantaloupe, papaya, and kale, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables
Lutein: Papaya, oranges, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and collards
Polyphenols: Green tea, grapes, wine, berries, apples, and whole grains
Isoflavones: Soybeans and soy products, including tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and edamame
Isothiocyanates: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale
Selenium: Grains, nuts, legumes, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese
Supplements versus food
Most studies have not shown that taking antioxidant supplements helps prevent disease. On the other hand, many studies show that eating fruits and vegetables reduces the risk for several diseases. Foods contain a mix of antioxidants and many other healthy substances. This may partly explain why antioxidant-rich foods, but not supplements, reduce the risk for disease.
In addition, although antioxidants in food bring health benefits, high-dose antioxidant supplements may be risky. For instance, taking high doses of beta-carotene has been linked to an increased risk for lung cancer in smokers. High-dose vitamin E supplements have been shown to increase the risk for prostate cancer and stroke.
Bottom line: Your best bet for preventing disease is to consume a balanced diet with plenty of antioxidant-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Aim for at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables every day.
Make sure at least half of your grain servings are whole grains.
With these healthy choices, you can give your cells the power to fend off the damage caused by free radicals.