Antioxidants: What You Need to Know

February 07, 2017

Here are just a few of the antioxidants you should be looking to add to your diet.

Lycopene is an extremely potent antioxidant found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots, pink grapefruit, blood oranges. The USDA estimates that 85 percent of American dietary intake of lycopene comes from tomatoes and tomato products. Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment that is protective against heart disease and some cancers (and gives tomatoes their red color). Tomato products that are cooked (like pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, etc.) have more lycopene than fresh tomatoes.

Beta-carotene is converted in the body to the antioxidant Vitamin A and found in many foods that are orange in color, including sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, squash, apricots, pumpkin, and mangos as well as collard greens, spinach, and kale. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient, important for our vision and also supports skin cells and the development of healthy immune system. Vitamin A itself is found in liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, egg yolks and mozzarella cheese.

Another antioxidant, lutein, best known for its benefit to aid healthy eyes, is also abundant in green, leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach, and kale.

Anthocyanins are a natural pigment that help reduce harmful oxygen and protect the body from cancers, aging, degenerative diseases and infections and are found in blue and purple fruits and vegetables like blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, dried plums and red grapes. (This is another reason why red wine is “better for you” than white wine.)

Vitamin E, also known as alpha-tocopherol, is found in almonds, sunflower seeds, in wheat germ, tuna, safflower, corn, and soybean oils, and in mangos, nuts, broccoli and is great for our skin with a pronounced anti-aging effect as well as treating skin diseases including psoriasis and acne as well as having breast and prostate cancer fighting properties.

And new research from the University of Scranton (in Pennsylvania) released just weeks ago found that popcorn actually contains more healthy antioxidants called polyphenols than do fruits and vegetables. The study found that there were 300 mg of polyphenols in a serving of popcorn, compared to 160 mg in a serving of fruit. Popcorn is only 4 percent water – compared to the 90 percent water that makes up many fruits and vegetables – so therefore the concentration of polyphenols is much higher.