Free radicals created from oxidation can harm the cells in your body. Antioxidants protect you from the destruction of free radicals by binding together to decrease their harmful effects. To some extent, antioxidants can reverse damage already caused by free radicals. You can stay healthier by eating foods rich in antioxidants.
Vitamin A and the provitamin A carotenoid, beta carotene, help protect you from free radicals. Vitamin A and beta carotene are also responsible for healthy vision, cell growth and normal formation and maintenance of your heart, kidneys, lungs and other organs. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, adults and children older than 4 need 5,000 international units of vitamin A per day. Some of the richest sources of vitamin A are liver and fish oils, with beef liver providing 444 percent of your daily needs. Milk and eggs also contain vitamin A. Beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in your body, is highest in orange and yellow vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, tomato products and some vegetable oils. A sweet potato provides 561 percent of your daily needs for vitamin A.
The antioxidant vitamin C is able to regenerate other antioxidants within the body, helping to guard against even more free radical damage. Protein metabolism and wound healing are other roles of vitamin C. Based on daily values, adults and children older than 4 need 60 milligrams of vitamin C per day. Vitamin C is mostly found in fruits, vegetables and fortified grains. Most Americans consume their recommended vitamin C intake from tomatoes, tomato juice and potatoes. Red peppers, one of the richest sources of vitamin C, provide 158 percent of your daily needs per 1/2-cup serving.
As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin E stops the production of reactive oxygen species that form when fat is broken down into energy. Vitamin E intake is also important to maintain a healthy immune system. The FDA recommends adults and children older than 4 consume a daily intake of 30 international units of vitamin E. Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds are rich sources of vitamin E. Dark green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals also contain vitamin E.
Lutein, lycopene and selenium are other natural antioxidants found in foods. Lutein, also crucial for healthy vision, is in eggs. Red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene. Tomato products contain a high content of lycopene. Selenium, classified as a trace element, plays a role in reproduction, DNA synthesis and thyroid hormone metabolism. Organ meats and seafood are the richest sources of selenium.
- MedlinePlus: Antioxidants
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Antioxidants and Health: An Introduction
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin A
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin C
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin E
- USDA Agricultural Research Service: Absorbing News About Eggs and Lutein
- MedlinePlus: Lycopene
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Selenium