When your body turns food into energy, it produces chemical byproducts called free radicals. These are also formed when you exercise, are exposed to air pollution, chemicals or even sunlight. If they are allowed to build up too much in your body, these free radicals can damage cells or even change their DNA and lead to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and vision loss.
Fortunately for us, our bodies produce molecules that offset some of those free radicals and we can also get them from the food we eat. These free radical fighters are known as antioxidants. They neutralize the free radicals and also help repair our DNA and keep our cells healthy. The antioxidants we get from food include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, selenium, manganese as well as phytonutrients which are found in plant-based foods including flavonoids, flavones, catechins, polyphenols and phytoestrogens.
Some foods are higher in antioxidants than others, especially fruits and vegetables. It’s a good idea to take in a lot of brightly colored (red, blue and purple) fruits and vegetables because they are high in anthocyanins which are a type of flavonoid, one of the classes of antioxidant compounds. Anthocyanins are excellent antioxidants as well as offering anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-cancer benefits.
Because not all antioxidants act the same, your best bet is to eat a wide variety of them to make sure you’re getting the most defense for your cells. Try to include several of the following in your diet each day:
Vitamin A – Dairy, eggs, cod liver oil
Vitamin C – Berries, oranges and other citrus, bell peppers, strawberries
Vitamin E – Nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, avocado
Beta-carotene – Carrots, peas, spinach, mangos, kale
Lycopene – Pink and red fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and watermelon
Lutein – Green leafy vegetables, corn, papaya, oranges
Selenium – Brown rice, whole grains, nuts, fish
Phenols – Pomegranates, apples, red wine, onions, coffee, tea, dark chocolate, spices (turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, allspice); blueberries have one of the highest flavonoid levels.
To get enough antioxidants, make plants the largest part of your diet and eat as wide a variety as possible.