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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


The power of antioxidants

Tammy Roberts, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


Many people have heard that antioxidants can slow the aging process or prevent cancer. People also know that eating fruits and vegetables can help prevent some health problems, but don’t understand exactly how it works. Antioxidant vitamins include vitamins A, C and E. Antioxidants help the body by neutralizing free radicals.


Every cell in the body needs energy to work and cells burn oxygen to produce energy. A by-product of the cell using oxygen for energy is free radicals. Free radicals are actually an unstable molecule with a missing electron. They want to become whole again so they go searching in the body for an electron they can take from another cell. As a result of electrons being stolen from body cells, cell dysfunction can occur and health problems can be the result. Free radicals are also formed as a result of cigarette smoke and ultraviolet light.


Antioxidants help rescue body cells by giving the free radical an electron of their own. The free radicals are then eliminated before they can do any damage.


Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, so it does its work of removing free radicals in body fluids both inside and outside of body cells. Vitamins A and E are fat soluble vitamins, so they do their work in the fat tissues in the body.


To get vitamins A and C, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits, strawberries, green peppers and tomatoes provide vitamin C. A good indicator that fruits and vegetables contain vitamin A is a dark green or deep yellow color. Sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and cantaloupe are examples foods that contain vitamin A. The best source of vitamin E is vegetable oil. Nuts and seeds are also a good source.


You may think you could just go to the store and buy some supplements to get extra antioxidant vitamins. However, there is no conclusive evidence that taking these vitamins beyond what is recommended daily will prevent disease. If you would like to go beyond the recommendation for these vitamins, consult your physician first.


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Last update: Friday, January 28, 2011