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Antioxidants. What Are They Really?

The language of super antioxidant foods can be confusing, because many of the terms for nutrients overlap. Here is a basic glossary:

Antioxidants are an umbrella name for many substances that retard the body's normal process of oxidation, meaning a reaction to oxygen that releases "free radicals" that damage cells and break the body down.
Digestion releases free radicals from food. Antioxidants help to destroy an overabundance of free radicals in our bodies. They slow down oxidation in our cells (which contributes to wrinkles and aging), reduce allergies (because our immune system is healthier), and reduce heart disease, cancer and other effects of aging.

Antioxidants are important disease-fighting compounds. Scientists believe they help prevent and repair the stress that comes from oxidation, a natural process that occurs during normal cell function. A small percentage of cells becomes damaged during oxidation and turns into free radicals, which can start a chain reaction to harming more cells and possibly disease.

Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries ranked highest among the fruits studied. Apples ran a close second, and dried fruits were also leading contenders. Peaches, mangos, and melons, while scoring lower than berries, still contain plenty of antioxidants as well as other nutrients.

How to Get the Most Antioxidants From Fruits?

Some foods benefit from a bit of cooking. One of his studies showed that by mildly steaming blueberries, the antioxidant level was enhanced, making more antioxidants available to the body. "We really don't know much about this, especially with fruits," Prior tells WebMD.

That's why variety in diet is important. Eat as many antioxidant-rich foods as possible, since researchers don't yet fully understand the complexities involved with bioavailability. It's also why there is an extremely important need to shoot for foods that offer the highest antioxidants, such as the top producers like berries, he says.

Dozens of antioxidant nutrients have been identified so far, and there are likely many more. Many vitamins have antioxidant effects, including A (which is a carotene), C and E.

Super Antioxidant Foods

Apples: Different varieties of apples have different phytonutrients, but they all have tons of antioxidants, including flavonoids and other polyphenols, and fiber. Apples, too, are one of the super antioxidant foods.

Avocados: Avocados have the same thing going for them that olive oil does: healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.
These are the "good fats," and they appear to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Antioxidants, magnesium, potassium, folate and fiber also help to increase good cholesterol levels.

Research shows that avocados help the body absorb more nutrients from other foods, (the tomato in the same salad, for instance).

Beans: Beans haven't gotten the same media buzz as blueberries, but some beans have even more health-promoting antioxidants. They also have as much cholesterol-lowering fiber as oats, and lots of lean protein.
Both dried beans and green beans are rich in B vitamins and potassium, (good for your heart).

Blueberries: Frozen do the trick as well as fresh, and they're easier to find in winter. For such tiny fruits, they deliver a huge wallop of antioxidants of many kinds, including anthocyanins and other polyphenols, and carotenoids.
They also have fiber, folic acid and vitamins C and E. And they taste good with very few calories.

Kiwis: Vitamin C, vitamin C, vitamin C,...kiwis are loaded in this antioxidant, which also makes oranges a superfood. Kiwis rival bananas in potassium, pound for pound and flavonoid antioxidants abound in the skin.

Oats: At the top of the list of grains in the fiber world, oats delivers not only antioxidants, but protein, potassium, magnesium and other minerals, and phytonutrients.
Oat help to lower cholesterol. Due to their high fiber content it is believed that they help stabilize blood sugar.

are an excellent source of antioxidants

* are low in starch

* are a valuable source of minerals, including potassium and phosphorus

* have a high silicon content, making them beneficial to our dogs’ bones and teeth

* soothe the gastrointestinal and nervous systems

This combination of nutrients appears to have more healthy effects than if each nutrient were consumed separately, which seems to be true of all whole grains.

Spinach: What doesn't spinach have? It's loaded with lutein (for eyes) and many other carotenoids, which are healthful antioxidants; plus other antioxidants like coenzyme Q, in serious doses; plus several B vitamins plus C and E; plus iron and other minerals; plus betaine, a vitamin-like nutrient research suggests is good for your heart.
And with almost no calories, you can eat as much as you want. Spinach's counterparts, kale, chard and other dark leafy greens make great salads.

Walnuts: All nuts are revered for their healthy fats and micronutrients.
Don't eat but a small handful at a time, though, because they are high in fat and high in calories. Walnuts' are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which helps to prevent heart disease. Plant sterols lower cholesterol, and contain lots of antioxidants.

Yogurt: The health benefits of yogurt have been known for centuries. The live cultures, called probiotics contain beneficial bacteria for intestinal health.
These bacteria turn milk into yogurt. In your intestines, these fight off bad bacteria, aid your digestion, assist in metabolizing food and help keep your system balanced. Yogurt also is a good source of calcium and protein. Natural (sugar-free) yogurt also replenishes the friendly bacteria in the intestines after you have taken antibiotics.

Experts say a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help you ward off infections that’s because these super foods contain immune-boosting antioxidants.

Vitamin C: Berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, orange, papaya, red, green or yellow peppers, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes

Vitamin E: Broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds

Other super foods that are rich in antioxidants include:

All berries
Red grapes
Alfalfa sprouts
Vitamins aren’t the only antioxidants in food. Other antioxidants that may help boost immunity include:

Zinc: Found in oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals, and dairy products
Selenium: Found in Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry and fortified breads, and other grain products

For example, researchers delving into the mysteries of fruits and vegetables and the complex antioxidants they contain have discovered benefits of:

Quercetin: a plant-based chemical (phytochemical) found in apples, onions, teas, red wines, and other foods; it fights inflammation and may help reduce allergies.

Luteolin: a flavonoid found in abundance in celery and green peppers; it also fights inflammation, and one study showed it may help protect against inflammatory brain conditions like Alzheimer’s.

Catechins: a type of flavonoid found in tea; catechins in tea may help reduce risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you can’t get enough antioxidants in your diet by eating fresh produce, some experts recommend taking a multivitamin that contains minerals, too. But be cautious about taking individual immune system supplements to boost immunity. With antioxidants, as with most anything, moderation is key. Vitamins A and E, for example, are stored in the body and eliminated slowly. Getting too much can be toxic.