Antioxidant is a broad term used to describe a group of minerals, vitamins, carotenoids and polyphenols. They protect the body from cell-damaging free radicals. Vitamins A, E, C and the mineral selenium are well known antioxidants. Lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene are carotenoids that have high antioxidant nutrition and give many vegetables and fruits their color. Beta-carotene is found in carrots and pumpkins and is what gives them their vibrant orange color. You can find lutein in leafy green vegetables. It is important in eyesight. Red fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, contain lycopene. Eating a colorful diet gives you the variety and nutritional value you need.
So why are they called antioxidants? The name represents the mechanism by which they help prevent disease. In humans, a small but significant percentage of oxygen molecules in the body will become electrically charged due to natural cellular activity and/or exposure to environmental factors like tobacco smoke and radiation. The oxygen molecule becomes a “free radical” as it undergoes this process of oxidation. Free radicals are highly reactive as they try to steal electrons from other molecules, including DNA and cellular membranes. This chain reaction of free radicals can damage cells, which may play a role in the development of certain conditions like heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants, however, stop the chain-reaction by giving up electrons and neutralizing free radicals so that they cannot induce any more oxidative damage.
Many studies have shown the link between free radicals and several degenerative diseases associated with aging. Thus, it is possible that antioxidant nutrition can be beneficial in reducing the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, immune dysfunction, cataracts, stroke, and macular degeneration.
There is an abundance of Vitamin A in liver, dairy and fish. Vitamin C is found in bell peppers and citrus fruits while Vitamin E is plentiful in oils, fortified cereals, seeds and nuts. The mineral selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, meats, tuna and plant foods. You will find lutein in green vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas and kale. Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit and papaya are all good sources of lycopene. Beta-carotene is abundant in sweet potatoes, carrots and squash. If you are not getting enough in your diet, the next step you may want to consider is nutritional supplements.
You can find more information on antioxidant nutrition by doing a web search or doing some research at your local library. Finding the right combination of nutritional supplements for you may be as simple as arming yourself with the right data. The best source of information may come from a nutritionist. They can evaluate your diet and make suggestions regarding supplementation.