Antioxidants 102: Types of Antioxidants

Last time, we figured out how antioxidants work–by attacking and preventing free radicals that cause dangerous cell damage–and now it’s time to learn how we can get more of these beneficial lil’ molecules into our diets. Different antioxidants perform different functions, which is why it’s important to fill your plate with a variety.

First up, we have vitamin C, arguably the most well-known antioxidant out there. It stops the chain reaction of free radicals creating more free radicals creating more free radicals before it even starts. It’s found abundantly in citrus fruits, but you can also get your vitamin C from peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and strawberries. Grab the last of summer’s luscious tomatoes at the farmer’s market while you still can!

Then there’s vitamin E, which defends cells from free radical chain reactions by acting as an important part of cell membranes. You can find it in whole grains, liver oil (yummm), vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds.

Selenium, an essential trace mineral, also helps protect cell membranes from free radical damage. Get it in fish, shellfish, chicken, red meat, eggs, and garlic. If you’re vegan, you might want to consider taking a supplement.

It’s easy to spot lycopene, since it usually comes in fruits and veggies that are (naturally) bright pink or red. It’s a powerful antioxidant and has been studied as a potential cancer-preventing nutrient, though studies so far have been inconclusive. It’s found in tomatoes, watermelon, red bell peppers, papayas, and red carrots.

Over 4000 flavonoids have been identified in everything from fruits and vegetables to beer, wine, and tea. Flavonoids work together with vitamin antioxidants to attack free radicals, so make sure you’re getting both in your diet. Try red wine, hoppy beers, grapes, cranberries, and pomegranate. That’s only the tip of the flavonoid iceberg!

If lycopene is red, lutein is found in yellow and orange. It’s related to vitamin A, and if you want to chow down on lutein, pick up some carrots, corn, squash, egg yolks, and other fruits and vegetables that are orange or yellow (or even dark green–kale is also a source of lutein).

The most famous source of lignans is nutty, delicious flaxseed. Lignans are thought to destroy free radicals, and they can also help block estrogen from its cancer-causing effect on breast tissue.You can also get your lignan fix from sesame seeds, red wine, grains like barley, rye, and oatmeal, or veggies from the Brassica family (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, etc.).

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