The Role of Antioxidants in a Healthy Lifestyle

Antioxidant is a classification of several organic substances. The organic substances include, but are not limited to, vitamins C, E, and A; a mineral called selenium; and a group of organic substances known as carotenoids (i.e.: beta-carotene). Carotenoids are pigments that add the color to a majority of fruits and vegetables.

When you breathe, you take in oxygen. This oxygen causes a chemical reaction in your cells called oxidation, which is a byproduct of normal metabolism. The result of oxidation is the formation of molecules known as free radicals, which can damage cells and tissues in the body, leading to certain cancers, heart diseases, and other illnesses. Antioxidants are believed to slow down the formation of free radicals, protecting the body by diminishing and repairing damage to cells and tissues.

The following table describes various key antioxidants, the sources of the antioxidants, and potential benefits.



Type of Antioxidant

Sources

Benefits

Beta-carotene

(Beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A.)

  • Apricots
  • Broccoli
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Carrot juice
  • Collard greens
  • Mangos
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Prunes
  • Pumpkin
  • Red bell pepper
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Yellow squash
  • May reduce the risk of heart attack


  • May protect against cataracts


  • May boost the immune response to cold and/or flu


  • May promote healthy eyes


  • May promote healthy skin

Flavonoids

(A subgroup of the broader class of polyphenols.)

  • Apples
  • Black tea
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Boysenberries
  • Broccoli
  • Chocolate
  • Cranberries
  • Green tea
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Raspberries
  • Red grapes
  • Red wine
  • Some nuts
  • Strawberries
  • May protect against the damage done by cholesterol


  • May help prevent blood clots


  • May have cancer fighting properties


  • May positively affect mechanisms involved in the maintenance of cardiovascular health
Isoflavones
  • Dried beans
  • Miso
  • Soy beans
  • Soy cheese
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • May help lower levels of "bad" cholesterol (LDL)

  • May help lower triglycerides
Isothiocyanates
  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Kale kohlrabi
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard greens
  • Rapini
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress
  • May block many cancer causing agents in a wide variety of cancers


  • May detoxify potential carcinogens, such as environmental toxins
Lutein
  • Corn
  • Egg yolks
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens
  • May help prevent macular degeneration
Lycopene
  • Guava

  • Pink grapefruit

  • Tomatoes

  • Watermelon
  • May reduce the risk of prostate cancer

  • May reduce the risk of colon cancer

  • May reduce the risk of bladder cancer

Organosulfurs

(Allyl sulfides, Allium)

  • Chives

  • Garlic

  • Leeks

  • Onions
  • May have beneficial effects on cholesterol level

  • May protect against stomach cancer

  • May protect against colorectal cancer
Phytic acid
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Wheat bran
  • May lower the risk of colon cancer

Plant estrogen

(Daidzein, equol, enterolactone)

  • Berries

  • Flaxseed

  • Soy beans

  • Whole wheat
  • May help reduce the risk for breast cancer

  • May help reduce the risk for prostate cancer

  • May inhibit the proliferation of existing cancer cells
Resveratrol
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Huckleberries
  • Mulberries
  • Wine
  • May protect against cardiovascular disease

  • May fight tumor promotion and progression
Sulforaphane
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Kale kohlrabi
  • Mustard greens
  • Turnip greens
  • May block the effects of carcinogens and suppress the growth of some types of tumors
Vitamin C
  • Broccoli
  • Black currants
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Grapefruit (citrus fruits)
  • Green bell pepper
  • Kiwi
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Red bell pepper
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • May help to maintain the flexibility of blood vessels, therefore benefiting blood pressure


  • May boost the immune response to cold and/or flu
Vitamin E
  • Almonds (various nuts)

  • Broccoli

  • Corn oil

  • Dandelion greens

  • Kiwi

  • Mangos

  • Safflower oil

  • Soybean oil

  • Spinach

  • Turnip greens

  • Wheat germ oil
  • May prevent blood clots


  • May prevent the formation of fatty plaques and cell proliferation on the walls of arteries


  • May protect against stroke caused by blocked arteries


  • May reduce the risk of cancer by preventing cancer cell proliferation and causing cancer cells to die


  • May protect against cataracts
Zeaxanthin
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Citrus
  • Collard greens
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Okra
  • Orange juice
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Turnip greens
  • Zucchini
  • May help prevent macular degeneration


Note: Because the study of antioxidants is new, the research is limited. There is no evidence that isolating antioxidants in a supplement offers health benefits or hinders the formation of free radicals. Most research suggests that it's the combination of nutrients in whole foods that offer the most valuable source of antioxidants.

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