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Dietary Foods that are High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants help counteract free radicals in the body. Free radicals are caused when an atom loses an electron, leaving it highly reactive. These free radicals steal electrons from other molecules, usually oxygen, causing a chain reaction of unstable and highly reactive molecules. Free radicals form in normal body processes such as metabolism but are also derived from environmental pollutants, second-hand smoke, radiation and herbicides. According to the American Cancer Society, they are known to cause damage to DNA and other molecules, which can lead to cancers and increase risk of heart attacks, strokes and other diseases. Antioxidants stabilize these free radicals in the body by donating one of their electrons because antioxidants are stable with or without that electron. The most efficient antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene.
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is important for the structure of bones, muscle and blood vessels. Citrus fruits such as blueberries, oranges and pineapples are rich in vitamin C. Other fruits that contain high amounts of vitamin C are melons such as cantaloupe, mango and guava. The Food and Nutrition Board's current recommended dietary intake of vitamin C is 75mg per day for women and 90mg per day for men. For example, one orange has approximately 70mg of vitamin C, and 1 cup of strawberries has about 85mg of vitamin C.
Vitamin A is essential in the development of skin, hair and mucous membranes. It also helps your vision, bone and tooth growth. Carrots, nonfat milk, pumpkins, eggs, spinach and sweet potatoes have high amounts of vitamin A. Current RDA for vitamin A is 700 international units for females, and 900 IU for males. A baked sweet potato has 3,200 IU, and one raw carrot has 1,790 IU of vitamin A.
Vitamin E protects blood cells, tissue and essential fatty acids from being destroyed in the body. Nuts and oils such as safflower, vegetable, corn and soybean oils contain vitamin E. Current RDA for vitamin E is about 15mg per day for men and women. One ounce of almonds has about 7.4mg, and 1 tbsp. of corn oil has about 1.5mg of vitamin E.
Dark veggies such as spinach, sprouts, asparagus and Brussels sprouts contain beta-carotene and vitamin C. Colored bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin contain high amounts of beta-carotene and some vitamin C. There is no specific RDA for beta-carotene, but preliminary studies have shown that about 20mg per day is sufficient for health benefits. Consuming five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily will satisfy this recommendation.