Antioxidants are plentiful in everyday foods
Antioxidants, those stars of "superfruits" and health food commercials, may seem like a modern miracle. But despite their recent popularity, antioxidants have long been present in everyday foods, said Robbie McKinnon, Pike County Extension agent with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
"Do you eat artichokes, beans, cinnamon, plums, russet potatoes, tea, apples, berries, pecans, prunes, soy or whole grains? These are the top antioxidant-containing foods," she said. "Food sources are the best options for getting them."
Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an updated set of dietary guidelines for Americans. As obesity looms large across the country, the guidelines recommend two major recommendations: maintain a calorie balance, and eat "nutrient-dense" foods.
Many of these nutrient-dense foods include antioxidants. Some are awfully familiar: dark-green, red and orange vegetables, beans, whole grains, and foods with more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D.
Although there are antioxidant supplements out there, McKinnon advised against using them. "Supplements are not regulated and could be harmful," she said.
Antioxidants are substances that occur naturally. They can protect the body's cells from stress and help repair damage when stress occurs. Antioxidants can also help prevent or slow the onset of certain conditions, improve the immune system, lower the risk of infection and possibly slow the process of aging.
They are also host to other beneficial qualities:
--Preventing low-density lipoproteins, otherwise known as "bad cholesterol," from causing stress on the body's cells.
--Maintaining normal blood sugar levels.
--Reducing the risk for several cancers: breast, prostate, pancreas and colon.
--Speeding up the body's recovery time after exercise-induced stress, and maintaining the body's immune functions.
--Slowing the premature aging of brain cells.
There are other components found in food with antioxidant-like properties.
Carotenoids with antioxidant properties are important for cell growth, immune function and eye health. They contain alpha and beta carotene, lycopene and lutein. Common food sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, papaya, squash, apricots, pumpkin, mangoes, spinach, kale and collard greens.
Polyphenols also have antioxidant properties, and contain resveratrol and flavonoids. They slow plaque buildup and improve artery and vein health. Food sources with polyphenols include tea, coffee, soy, fruit, olive oil, dark chocolate, cinnamon, grapes and red wine.
Selenium is not an antioxidant itself, but it is a component of antioxidant enzymes. Food sources are rice, wheat, breads, Brazil nuts, brewer's yeast, oatmeal, chicken, eggs, dairy products, molasses, garlic, tuna and other seafood.
With so many antioxidant- and nutrient-rich foods around, it's easy to create a great-tasting, filling, healthy diet, said McKinnon.
"Make time to fit them into your day," she said.
For more information on antioxidants, consult the U of A Division of Agriculture Family and Consumer Sciences fact sheet FSFCS84, which can be found online at www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSFCS84.pdf.