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What are antioxidants and how can I get some?

Ask Peggy

Peggy Woodward, RD

Dear Peggy: All you hear about these days are antioxidants. What exactly are they, and why do we want them in our diets? Please tell me which foods I can get them in without shopping at a health food store. —M.L., Tulsa, Oklahoma

Good question! To explain antioxidants, we first have to talk about free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that damage cells and can lead to early aging and various diseases. Antioxidants are substances that quench these free radicals and stop their destructive actions. This can include preventing cancerous cell changes, diabetic complications and vascular inflammation, which leads to heart disease and causes heart attacks.

Antioxidants are abundant in fruits and vegetables. They are also found in grains, nuts and some meats, poultry and fish. To get more of them in your diet, try to eat more sweet potatoes, which are rich in one antioxidant, beta-carotene; tomato products, which are rich in lycopene; and berries and grapes, which are rich in another powerful antioxidant, anthocyanins. Antioxidants can also be seen in colorful pigments, such as the golden lutein in corn, or colorless compounds, such as the isoflavones in soybeans.

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