Consider Antioxidents

By Zonya Foco, RD

Did you know that autumn is a fabulous time to boost your diet with antioxidants?

What are they? - I'm glad you asked.
Antioxidants are most notably vitamins C, E, and beta carotene. Since beta carotene turns into vitamin A in the body as needed, you can remember these easily as "ACE."

Many people do not realize that oxygen, while necessary for human life, is also a highly reactive molecule that can damage the body's cells via "oxidation." An easy way to understand oxidation is to remember what happens to a sliced apple after about 15 minutes: it turns brown. But if we put lemon juice on the apple's exposed flesh, it slows the rate of oxidation, helping to keep it from turning brown.

Many of the diseases we associate with growing older, like heart disease, cancer, cataracts and even aging itself, are partly caused by an accumulation of oxidative damage. Our goal is to "bathe" the insides of our bodies consistently with a diet rich in these antioxidants.

Autumn's Antioxidant Superstars: Shop by Color

Carotenoids, the pigments that give plant life their blue, red, orange and yellow hues, are exactly what we're looking for and they are plentiful in many common fruits and vegetables. While in the produce aisle, shop for color; oranges, reds, yellows, greens and blues. Here's a list of some of the ACE superstars to stock up on:

  • Pumpkin (canned too)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash (acorn, hubbard and butternut)
  • Carrots and carrot juice
  • Green, red, yellow and orange peppers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges and grapefruit
  • Apricots (fresh, dried and nectar)
  • Papaya, kiwi and mangoes
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cherries (look for unsweetened, frozen)
  • Leafy greens (spinach, romaine, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, Swiss chard)

Check ou the two sample recipes full of ACE Superstars!

What about supplements?

Studies have not proven that our "isolated" forms of antioxidants in supplements work like foods. To complicate matters, scientists do not know which of the carotenoids are most beneficial, although the easiest to be studied has been beta carotene.

By eating pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apricots, carrots and winter squash, we get beta carotene along with all the other forms of carotenoids. Eating one carrot gives several times the U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA).

As for vitamin C, it's also easy to get several times the RDA by eating oranges, grapefruit, juices, tomatoes and green or red peppers. However, getting adequate levels of vitamin E is not easy, especially if you are eating a low fat diet. Your doctor or dietitian may recommend taking anywhere between 30 mg and 400 mg of vitamin E a day. Since taking supplements is tricky business, it's important to get expert advice.

Recommended reading:
The Vitamin Strategy by Dr. Art and Val Ulene.
The Antioxidant Pocket Counter by Gail Becker, R.D.