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Choosing Antioxidants for Optimal Health

By Rennie Aranda, Skinny Gene Registered Dietitian

We have all been told not only to eat our fruits and veggies, but eat them in a variety of colors – red, dark green, yellow, blue, purple, white and orange. Why? It not only creates a more visually pleasing plate for ourselves (and our kids!), but it provides us with a broad range of nutrients, including antioxidants!

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What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are nutrients that help prevent or delay some types of cell damage that lead to chronic conditions (heart disease, cancer, vision loss, diabetes, etc.)


Where can we find them? (foods)

Antioxidants obtained from the diet play an important role in the body’s antioxidant defense against free radicals that promote (i.e cause) cell damage, which is linked to an increased risk of a variety of diseases and even to the aging process itself. These antioxidants include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lycopene, and other phytonutrients (substances found in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods that provide health benefits).

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Vitamin C and Vitamin E are especially effective because they help reduce a variety of reactive oxygen species (those free radicals that cause cell damage) and are quickly regenerated back to their active form to neutralize the next set of free radicals — a natural boost to our immune system!

Vitamin C is abundant in fruits and vegetables and offers antioxidant protection against bacterial and viral invaders.

Vitamin E is generally found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and wheat germ to protect unsaturated fat in cell membranes as well as fatty nerve tissue from oxidative destruction.

Carotenoids are colored nutrients/antioxidants generally found in fruits and vegetables as well. (It’s safe to say fruits and vegetables are loaded with a variety of different antioxidants!) This includes beta-carotene (the orange color in carrots) and lycopene (the red color in tomatoes).

Aim for a variety of colors to obtain different antioxidants in foods. Examples of foods that are rich in antioxidants include (but not limited to): prunes, apples, raisins, plums, grapes, alfalfa sprouts, onions, eggplant, beans, whole grains, and fish.

Other antioxidants that can help keep you healthy include zinc (found in oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals, and dairy products) and selenium (found in Brazilian nuts, tuna, beef, poultry, fortified breads, and other grain products). To get the biggest benefits of antioxidants, eat these raw (if it doesn’t need to be cooked, such as vegetables) or lightly steam them. Don’t overcook or boil them, which can lead to some nutrient loss.


How cooking with color can help your health:

Here are just some of the benefits of eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.

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  • Red: fruits and vegetables rich in this color help
    aintain a healthy heart, memory function, urinary tract health, and lowers risk of some cancers.
  • Orange/Yellow: these fruits and veggies help maintain heart, vision, and immune system health, as well as lower the risk of some cancers. High levels of vitamin C and folic acid are found in these colored fruits and vegetables.
  • Green: Fruits and veggies of this color decreases the risk of some cancers as well as heart disease, maintain vision health, protect against birth defects and keep red blood cells, bones, and teeth strong.
  • Blue/Purple/Black: these fruits and veggies contain antioxidants that help lower the risk of some cancers, promote healthy aging, and improve urinary tract health, memory function and heart health.
  • White/Tan/Brown: a diet rich in these colored fruits and vegetables will enjoy the benefits of lower cancer risk and heart health maintenance. These fruits and vegetables typically include health promoting substances such as folic acid, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.


How antioxidants affect diabetes:

High blood sugars (hyperglycemia) in those with type 2 diabetes promote auto-oxidation of glucose (blood sugar) to form free radicals, which is why antioxidants can help in reducing diabetic complications as a result of hyperglycemia. Measures of oxidative damages are generally increased in people with diabetes since hyperglycemia creates additional oxidative stress and decreased antioxidant protection. Although evidence does not warrant increased intakes of antioxidants to help treat or delay the onset of diabetes, including antioxidants in our diet can help protect our cells from some oxidative damage.

The best way to stay healthy is to eat a wide variety of vitamin-rich foods. Nutrient dense “super foods” are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which all minimize cell damage that may lead to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Nutrients work best in our bodies when we get them the natural way — through our diet! It’s best to aim for a variety of healthy foods that contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to ensure a nutritionally balanced diet for optimal health.

Related Post: Eat the Rainbow!


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