Top 10 Antioxidants and the Foods That Contain Them
Antioxidants are powerful nutrients that help the body repair and heal. They protect us from toxins and environmental stressors that produce free radicals in the body that cause cell damage. Minimizing cell and tissue damage can decrease the effects of aging and age-related diseases.
I have compiled a list of 10 antioxidants and outlined the benefits and key functions of each, as well as provided examples of foods that contain each antioxidant. In researching the information, I found that some have their own website, like lycopene.com!
Most experts agree that the best sources are antioxidant-rich foods. Each food—mostly fruits and vegetables—contains not only the identified antioxidant, but often multiple antioxidants, as well as vitamins and minerals.
Eating fresh produce has the added benefit of giving us fiber in the diet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that half of your meal be fruits and vegetables, and that you try to eat as big a variety of produce as possible.
I have not addressed supplements. Many of these antioxidants may be beneficial in amounts that you can only achieve through supplements. This is something you should coordinate with your health care provider.
List of Top 10 Antioxidants
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Coenzyme Q10
- Alpha-lipoic acid
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also referred to as ascorbic acid, is one of our “first lines of defense” against “attack” in the form of infection, toxins and pollutants. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, meaning it is excreted in the urine, and it can be quickly depleted when compared to fat soluble vitamins which can be stored in our tissues for relatively long periods of time.
Vitamin C is important not only for cell and tissue development, but growth and repair as well. It is crucial in many body functions, such as collagen formation, maintenance of bones and cartilage, iron absorption, immune system function, and the healing of wounds. Many studies conclude that Vitamin C is beneficial for stress, colds, skin health, and reducing inflammation.
The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 75-90 mg daily for adults. In a study at the University of Michigan, researchers examined over 100 studies of Vitamin C done in a 10 year period. Researcher Mark Moyad, MD, MPH noted “The more we study vitamin C, the better our understanding of how diverse it is in protecting health, from cardiovascular, cancer, stroke, eye health [and] immunity to living longer.” Most of the studies the researchers looked at were of subjects using 500 mg of Vitamin C daily to attain beneficial results. Vitamin C proponent Dr. Linus Pauling was reported to take 12,000 mg per day.
Sources of Vitamin C include oranges, kiwis, strawberries, black currants, mangos, spinach, broccoli, and capsicum.
This is a sample of what you would need to eat in order to equal 500 mg of Vitamin C: 1 cup cantaloupe, 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup cooked broccoli, ½ cup red cabbage, ½ cup red pepper, ½ cup green pepper, 1 medium kiwi, and 1 cup tomato juice.
Benefits of Vitamin C
2. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is fat soluble. It can be stored in the body’s fatty tissues anywhere from a few days to several months. Taking too much Vitamin E can be harmful. Unlike water soluble vitamins, for which excess is excreted in the urine, Vitamin E can be stored in your liver.
Vitamin E is important in healing sunburn and delaying the aging of our skin. It helps us maintain a healthy circulatory system, and aids in wound healing and blood clotting. Studies have shown Vitamin E may lessen premenstrual symptoms, as well as some breast diseases. Studies have suggested that Vitamin E may decrease the risks of coronary artery disease. Animal studies indicate Vitamin E may slow the development of atherosclerosis.
Food sources of Vitamin E include whole grain products, wheat germ, egg yolks, vegetable oil, nuts, peanut butter, seeds, avocado, and liver.
Carotenoids are pigments found in some plants, and responsible for the bright colors seen in many vegetables. There are over 600 natural carotenoids, all from plants. Carotenoids can be sub-classified as carotenes or xanthophylls. Alpha-, beta-, and gamma-carotenes can convert to Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for bone development, reproductive system function, and eye health.
Beta-carotene converts to retinol, essential for vision. It subsequently converts to retinoic acid, which is necessary for cell development and growth. Beta-carotene is also thought to protect us from sun damage.
Dietary sources of beta-carotene include carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, mangos, apricots, winter squash such as pumpkin, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, and parsley.
Information from MayoClinic.org
Selenium is a mineral, and thought to provide numerous benefits, such as:
- Stimulates the immune system
- Provides resistance to cancer and arthritis
- Protects us from cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes by preventing clots at sites of vessel damage in the brain and heart
- Decreases skin aging
- Increases fertility
- Protects against damage from smoking
Selenium deficiency has been linked with Keshan’s heart disease, muscular dystrophy, some cancers, cataracts, growth retardation, infertility, and liver problems.
Selenium is deficient in the soil in China and New Zealand. Selenium is also known to be deficient in the soil in the eastern and central U.S. People who eat a balanced diet of food grown in the western U.S. likely get enough selenium from food sources.
Selenium can be found in seafood, lean meat, brewer’s yeast, and whole grains. It is also found in offal, which is the organs, tail, feet and heads of animals.
Lutein is a xanthophyll carotenoid. It provides nutrition to our eyes and skin. It is thought to reduce the risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness with aging.
Sources of lutein dark leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, collards, and some lettuces. Other sources of lutein include egg yolks, corn, green peas, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kiwi, and honeydew.
Information is from LuteinInfo.com
Lycopene is a carotene, and is the pigment that gives vegetables and fruits red color. Recent research suggests lycopene is beneficial for bone and skin health, and male fertility. It is believed to reduce prostate cancer and skin cancer risks, and deter osteoporosis. It is also thought to provide “internal protection” from sunburn.
Lycopene can be found in tomatoes. Some experts recommend raw unprocessed tomatoes, while others suggest heating tomatoes releases three times the amount of lycopene. Lycopene is considered a lipid, and some sources recommend eating tomatoes with oil for better lycopene absorption by the body. Lycopene is also present in watermelon and pink grapefruit.
Information is from lycopene.com.
Anthocyanins are considered natural anti-inflammatories, and seem to help us maintain normal blood sugar levels. Anthocyanins are thought to have beneficial effects on collagen, the nervous system, large and small blood vessels, and eye sight.
You can get anthocyanins by eating grapes, berries, red cabbage and eggplant.
8. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q-10 is also known as CoQ10 or ubiquinol-10. It is “food” for our cells crucial for optimal health. CoQ10 is produced by all of the body’s cells, and is stored in the kidneys, liver, and heart. Some researchers believe some of the B vitamins, and Vitamin C, facilitate the conversion of tyrosine, an amino acid, to CoQ10.
CoQ10 is necessary for the fat metabolism, and energy production. It helps prevent the buildup of fatty acids in the heart tissues by improving the conversion of fatty acids to energy. It is also thought to have a role in decreasing periodontal disease.
Statin drugs, prescribed for high cholesterol, drain the body’s CoQ10 levels. Studies have demonstrated that most patients with heart problems have a CoQ10 deficiency.
CoQ10 is found only in small amounts in foods, such as seafoods. Other foods include organ meats (especially heart), chicken and beef. Supplementation with CoQ10 has been found helpful in treating patients with congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, angina, and mitral valve prolapse. For more information, see Dr. George Jacob’s article.
Information is from HolisticOnline.com.
Dr. Sinatra on CoQ 10
9. Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is considered a “universal antioxidant” that can reach tissues that are primarily composed of fat, like the nervous system, but also tissues with more water content, like the heart.
ALA is thought to energize metabolism, fight free radicals, slow aging, improve skin elasticity, prevent cancer, protect against heart disease such as atherosclerosis, deter chronic fatigue, lessen numbness and tingling, prevent complications of diabetes such as diabetic neuropathy, and protect the liver. It may also protect against HIV.
Food sources of ALA include spinach, brewer’s yeast, red meat, and liver. Many experts recommend supplements to get concentrated doses for the treatment of specific problems.
Flavonoids, also known as bioflavonoids, are a category of nutrients, as vitamins and minerals are categories of nutrients. They have identified over 4000 flavonoids in plants. Flavonoids are “cousins” to carotenes, and like carotenes, they are responsible for bright colors in fruits and vegetables.
Flavonoids are believed to decrease coronary artery disease and decrease the occurrences of heart attacks. They are also thought to protect us against cancer.
Flavonoids are found in tea, green tea, red wine, onions, fruits including citrus, grapes and apples.
Talk to Your Health Care Provider
Almost all of us could benefit from eating more fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Consult your health care provider, particularly if you are considering taking supplements to get the benefits of these nutrients.
Questions & Answers
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