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What Are Antioxidants And Why Do You Need Them?

What are antioxidants and why do you need them?

What are antioxidants, and why you need them to maintain good overall health?

You may have noticed that many healthy foods and products boast “antioxidants” as their powerful, active ingredient. Antioxidants, which are substances commonly found in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, are vital for destroying free radicals that can alter healthy cells and increase the risk for illness and disease — including cancer.

How antioxidants fight free radicals

Free radicals are toxic compounds that come from man-made substances in processed foods, UV rays, and environmental toxins like cigarette smoke and pollution. Your body also produces free radicals naturally when converting certain foods into energy. Free radicals can damage your DNA and alter your cells, and cause oxidative stress that can lead to premature aging and life-threatening diseases.

Antioxidants are healthy vitamins and nutrients that destroy free radicals and prevent them from spreading to and damaging other cells. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene can help lower the risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer. A diet high in antioxidants can boost your immunity, prevent signs of aging, and lend to better overall health and weight-loss success.

Common sources of antioxidants

Foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are common sources of antioxidants. Antioxidants can also be found in legumes, eggs, whole grains, and animal products including turkey, fish, and chicken.

Antioxidants include:

  • Beta-carotene
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Lutein
  • Lycopene
  • Selenium

The human body also produces an antioxidant called glutathione that can fight off free radicals naturally. Though glutathione is produced naturally by cells, experts still recommend consuming healthy foods and nutritional supplements high in antioxidants to ensure you’re getting enough. Increase your body’s production of glutathione by eating foods high in B vitamins, along with cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, kale, and collard greens.

Boosting your antioxidant intake

If you are taking prescription medication or have a history of chronic disease, talk to your doctor before modifying your diet. Studies show that consuming large amounts of certain antioxidants may actually increase your risk for disease and illness, depending on your unique medical history. Some antioxidants may even cause adverse side effects when paired with prescription medications.

Foods that contain the highest amounts of antioxidants:

  • Berries (blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, etc.)
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Plums and prunes
  • Apples (Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala)
  • Oranges
  • Pecans
  • Beans
  • Artichoke
  • Cilantro
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Red bell peppers
  • Whole grains
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Bok choy, etc.)
  • Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel, etc.)
  • Dark chocolate
  • Green tea

Nutritional supplements can also be great sources of antioxidants. Consult with your doctor before taking any supplements, since some brands are not regulated or FDA-approved and may not list accurate doses. Your doctor can help you establish a healthy diet and meal plan, or recommend supplements that help boost your antioxidant intake. For instance, our Pro-Antioxidant supplement is a safe dietary supplement that provides antioxidant bioflavonoids derived from natural sources.

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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on July 10, 2017

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