Vitamins C and E and beta-carotene are all considered antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radical damage within cells can lead to cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidants may slow or possibly prevent the development of cancer. Vitamins C and E and beta-carotene are widely available as supplements, but some people prefer to eat fruits and vegetables rich in these nutrients.
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Foods High in Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a crucial nutrient for people to consume because we are one of the few species that do not synthesize it internally. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that the daily recommended amount of vitamin C for a non-smoking, adult male is 90 mg. Other researchers, most notably Dr. Linus Pauling, recommended daily amounts of 1,000 to 3,000 mg of vitamin C for adults.
Although many people assume that oranges are the best source of vitamin C, many other fruits and vegetables have more vitamin C per gram. According to Encyclopedia of Foods: A Guide to Healthy Nutrition, rose hip extract is the most vitamin C rich source, offering over 1,000 mg of vitamin C per 100 g of extract. Blackcurrants and guava provide around 200 mg of vitamin C per 100 g of fruit, strawberries 80 mg, peppers, spring greens and kale 70 mg, Brussels sprouts and lemons 60 mg, oranges and kiwifruit 50 mg, and broccoli about 45 mg.
Foods High in Vitamin E
Vitamin E is fat soluble, unlike vitamin C, and a small amount is stored in our bodies. In addition to being an antioxidant, vitamin E is important for the protection of cell membranes as well as keeping the skin, heart, blood vessels, nerves, muscles and red blood cells viable.
Generally, vitamin E is obtained from oils and nuts. According to Encyclopedia of Foods, sunflower oil is the richest source of vitamin E, offering about 49 mg of the vitamin per 100 g of the oil. Cottonseed oil produces 43 mg of vitamin E per 100 g of oil, safflower oil 40 mg, hazelnuts and almonds about 25 mg, wheat germ and rapeseed oil about 22 mg, peanuts 10 mg, sweet potato about 5 mg, and avocados around 3 mg.
Foods High in Beta-Carotene
Beta-carotene is considered a precursor to vitamin A and a main source along with retinol. Beta-carotene is converted into retinol and stored in the liver. Vitamin A is fat soluble and plays an essential role in healthy vision, maintaining healthy skin and in preserving bones and teeth.
Beta-carotene is usually found in fleshy, orange-colored vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and yams. In fact, carrots are the richest source of beta-carotene, containing 8,000 mcg per 100 g of carrot. Sweet potato and red pepper contain about 4,000 mcg, spinach and boiled kale about 3,500 mcg, watercress 2,500 mcg, mangoes 1,400 mcg and apricots about 1,200 mcg of beta-carotene per 100 g of fruit.
- National Cancer Institute - Fact Sheet: Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention
- "Encyclopedia of Foods: A Guide to Healthy Nutrition"; Academic Press and The Mayo Clinic; 2001
- "The Vitamins - Third Edition"; Gerald F. Combs; 2007