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How Antioxidants Can Keep You Healthy

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Updated January 21, 2012

Most people know that eating right and staying active will help you stay healthy. But there are certain foods that are better than others and may even help maintain your immune system.

These so called "superfoods" are known as antioxidants. Scientists believe that antioxidants protect your cells from free radicals, which are molecules that are produced when your body breaks down food. Free radicals may also come from environmental sources, such as tobacco smoke and radiation, and may contribute to illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.

Find out what these antioxidants are and which foods contain them.

Beta-Carotene

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Antioxidants are molecules that are present in very small amounts in a variety of foods. There have not been any human trials proving that antioxidants protect against diseases. However, most of these foods are good for your overall health and any added benefit from antioxidants are a bonus.

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that is converted to retinol in our bodies. Retinol is essential to vision. It is also converted to retinoic acid, which helps with cell growth.

Good sources of beta-carotene include: carrots, carrot juice, spinach, kale, cantaloupe, apricots, papaya, mango, fortified oatmeal, peas, tomato juice, peaches and sweet red peppers.

Lutein

Lutein is an antioxidant that helps with eyesight and may help prevent cataracts.

Good sources of lutein include: carrots, squash, spinach, green leafy vegetables, oranges and yellow peppers.

Lycopene

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Lycopene is an antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables their red color. It has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Common sources of lycopene include: tomatoes, tomato soup, tomato sauce, ketchup, watermelon and pink or red grapefruit.

Selenium

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Selenium is a mineral that creates antioxidant enzymes in your body. These enzymes help prevent cell damage, stimulate antibodies after immunizations and help protect the body from poisons.

Good sources of selenium include: brazil nuts, tuna, beef, cod, turkey, chicken breast, garlic, whole eggs, cottage cheese, brown rice, enriched whole wheat bread, black walnuts and cheddar cheese.

Vitamin A

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Vitamin A assists in vision and cell growth. It may also prevent some types of cancer, aid in growth and development and improve immune function.

Sources of vitamin A include: beef liver, chicken liver, whole or fortified milk, cheddar cheese, eggs and egg substitute.

Vitamin C

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Vitamin C helps form bones, cartilage, muscles and blood vessels in the body. It is also very important in helping the body absorb iron.

Good sources of Vitamin C are: asparagus, berries, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, cauliflower, lemons, oranges, fortified breads/grains/cereals, kale, kiwi, potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.

What about "Vitamin C and the Common Cold?"

Vitamin E

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Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from being damaged by free radicals. It also helps to form red blood cells and aids in the absorption of Vitamin K.

These foods are a good source of Vitamin E: wheat germ oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, safflower oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter, peanuts, corn oil, spinach, broccoli, soybean oil, kiwi and mango.

All of these antioxidants are found in foods that we should include in our daily diets. It is best to get these antioxidants from food sources rather than vitamin supplements. Including two to three servings of fruits and four to five servings of vegetables in your diet every day is good for your health and may even help you avoid a few colds!

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Sources:

Lycopene: an Antioxidant for Good Health. American Dietetic Association 2002. 28 Nov 08.

"Vitamin E." Office of Dietary Supplements 23 Jan 07. National Institutes of Health. 30 Nov 08.

"Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin A and Carotenoids." Office of Dietary Supplements 23 April 06. National Institutes of Health. 30 Nov 08.

"Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Selenium." Office of Dietary Supplements 01 Aug 04. National Institutes of Health. 30 Nov 08.

"What Is an Antioxidant? American Dietetic Association 14 Sep 06. 04 Dec 08.

"Selenium in Diet." Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia 02 Jan 07. National Institutes of Health. 04 Dec 08.

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