Healthy eating is about more than choosing low-calorie, low-carb or low-fat foods. Choosing foods that are rich in antioxidants — vitamins A and E, beta-carotene and lycopene — will help protect your body against damaging chemicals called “free radicals.”
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, free radicals are a by-product of the body’s digestive processes and also are introduced into the body through the air and sunlight. Free radicals devour electrons and alter DNA or make low-density lipoprotein (LDL, aka “bad cholesterol”) more likely to get stuck in an arterial wall. These nasty chemicals are thought to play a role in the development of cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants fight back against free radicals and help prevent them from damaging the body.
Sounds complicated, yes, but the good news is that your body does all of the work. Once you’ve made good choices, you can simply enjoy the benefits of antioxidant-rich foods. You can include them in your diet at any time of day and in many creative ways.
Tomatoes, watermelons and grapefruit = lycopene
The antioxidant lycopene, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and grapefruits pink. It’s not produced in the body, but you can benefit from it by eating tomatoes (including canned tomato products), watermelon and grapefruit. Try topping your scrambled eggs with some homemade salsa. This Fresh Tomato Salsa recipe from EatingWell takes only 30 minutes to prepare, yields about five cups of salsa and can be made as spicy or as mild as you like.
Go nuts for vitamin E
Vitamin E’s antioxidant powers range from fighting off bacteria and viruses to preventing blood from clotting inside your vessels. This super-powered vitamin can be found in spinach, broccoli and nuts such as peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds. To enjoy more vitamin E in your diet, swap your peanut butter for a homemade almond butter.
Eat your carrots (and sweet potatoes, and mangoes, and …)
Mom was right when she told you to eat your carrots so you’d have good eyesight. Carrots are a rich source of vitamin A, which is involved in immune function, vision, reproduction and cellular communication, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health.
Your body needs two types of vitamin A: preformed vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids. Preformed vitamin A is found in animal sources of food, such as dairy products, fish and meat. Provitamin A carotenoids like beta-carotene are pigments from plant-based foods such as sweet potatoes and mangoes. You can indulge in both types of vitamin A when you prepare a dish like grilled tilapia with mango salsa. This mango salsa recipe even contains another food containing beta-carotene: red pepper.
Good health is as close as the grocery store. Give your taste buds a treat and your body a boost by choosing antioxidant-rich foods.