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Boost your immune system with antioxidants
By Kristi Friesen, Registered Dietitian, Project Open Hand

Antioxidants are powerful compounds in our foods that keep our immune systems working strong.

Many natural cellular processes in our bodies create waste, some of which form free radicals. If these highly reactive substances aren’t neutralized, they can cause damage in our bodies which can lead to inflammation. A consistently high state of inflammation is considered to be a precursor to many common conditions in older adults, such as cardiovascular disease and various types of cancer.

The good news is that our bodies create antioxidants to balance this damage out! Antioxidants bind to free radicals and suppress their damage. However, since we are exposed to additional free radicals from pollution, cigarette smoke, pesticides, radiation, and some processed foods, we need to also take in additional antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals.

How can I get more antioxidants?
Antioxidants are found in many plant foods. Here are a few:

  • Vitamin C is found in citrus, kiwi, strawberries, bell peppers and broccoli.
  • Vitamin E is contained in almonds, avocados and olive oil.
  • Beta-carotene creates vitamin A, important for vision and bone health. Good sources are carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, chard and papayas.
  • Lycopene is found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, papaya and watermelon.
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in dark green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, collard greens and broccoli and may help slow the progress of age-related macular degeneration in the eyes.
  • Anthocyanins are found in blue and purple foods like blueberries, raspberries, plums, pomegranates, eggplant, and red cabbage.

How much do I need?
There is no specific daily recommendation for antioxidants. Including fresh fruits and vegetables into every meal is the best way to ensure you’re getting antioxidants on a regular basis.

Should I take a supplement?
Antioxidants appear to have the most benefit when you eat them in whole foods. For example, strawberries and raspberries contain an antioxidant called ellagic acid, which is poorly absorbed in supplement form. Therefore, it’s better to spend your money on a basket of strawberries than a bottle of pills. The best antioxidant diet, one rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, could also be the best diet to prevent heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, and age-related diseases.

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