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Antioxidants are substances that protect cells in the human body against the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, but they are also produced by environmental exposures such as tobacco smoke and radiation. Here’s how it happens: a small but significant percentage of oxygen molecules in the body will become electrically charged due to natural cellular activity or when they are exposed to an environmental factor such as cigarette smoke. This oxidation process produces by-products called “free radicals.” These free radicals are highly reactive as they try to steal electrons from other molecules, including DNA and cellular membranes. The free radicals then continue to react with other cellular molecules in a chain-reaction mechanism. This chain reaction of free radicals can damage cells, which may play a role in the development of cancer, heart disease and other diseases. Studies have also been conducted that also show a link between free radicals and degenerative diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, stroke and macular degeneration. Antioxidants, however, stop the chain-reaction and prevent or slow the oxidation process in our body. Antioxidant is the collective name for the vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and polyphenols that protect the body from these harmful free radicals. In effect, antioxidants act as free radical scavengers that help prevent and repair damage done by the free radicals. Antioxidants include Vitamin A, Beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Lutein, Lycopene and Selenium.

Antioxidants are found in many foods, such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, poultry and fish. The most well known antioxidants are:

Vitamin A and Carotenoids - found in carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, peaches and apricots. Basically any brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin C - found in citrus fruits such as oranges and limes, bell peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and tomatoes.

Vitamin E - found in nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, oils and fortified cereals.

Selenium - found in fish and shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic.

Other common antioxidants are flavonoids and polyphenols found in red wine, purple grapes, pomegranate, cranberries and tea. Tomatoes are high in lycopene and lutein can be found in dark green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach.


 


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