By: Analisse Rodriguez, UTSA Dietetics Student
In our world today, there are many external factors that keep us from committing to a healthy lifestyle. Life can get stressful at times, so committing to a healthful lifestyle sometimes feels impossible. A great first step in beginning your healthy lifestyle is understanding and choosing antioxidant rich foods. Antioxidants are compounds in our body that prevent or repair cells that have been damaged from free radicals. The production of free radicals can be caused by everyday body functions and lifestyle habits such as smoking. Specifically, free radicals weaken our healthy cells which makes them more prone to cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers, but antioxidants help protect our healthy cells from free radical damage.
The best way for your body to receive these antioxidants is through oral consumption. Vitamin E, C, and carotenoids (which include beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein) are antioxidants, so foods that contain these nutrients are antioxidant rich foods. It’s best to consume a variety of them, so each week that you go grocery shopping purchase a fruit and vegetable that you didn’t consume the week before. These fruits and veggies can be bought fresh, frozen or canned, but it’s recommended to choose canned and frozen options that contain no added sugars or salt. A daily consumption of 2 cups of fruits and 2 ½ cups of vegetables is a great way to begin your healthy lifestyle!
Vitamin E’s main job is to perform its antioxidant function and protect our body from cell damage, heart disease, and cataracts. It also operates with Vitamin C to prevent chronic diseases. Good sources of Vitamin E are found in vegetable oils, avocado, salad dressings, wheat germ, whole grain products, seeds, nuts and peanut butter.
Vitamin C provides several nutritional benefits from consumption. This antioxidant helps protect our body from cell damage, infection, and helps the production of collagen. This is important because collagen is a connective tissue that keeps our bones and muscles together. Vitamin C also enhances the absorption of iron and folate, so next time you are consuming a food with iron or folate (produce or supplement form), eat an orange or drink some orange juice to better absorb these nutrients. Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines) are great sources of vitamin C. Other great sources of vitamin C include strawberries, sweet peppers, broccoli and potatoes.
Carotenoids are also antioxidants found in food. Specifically, beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein are carotenoids that work to protect our body from oxidative cell damage that is caused by free radicals. Food sources that are high in carotenoids may help prevent certain cancers, and macular degeneration. Sources of carotenoids are tomatoes, carrots, spinach, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, winter squash and broccoli.