A bowl of almonds, topped with a cashew, sitting atop a bed of mixed nuts.


There are trillions of cells in the human body—each responsible for various tasks that keep your body functioning and support health and well-being. Antioxidants may help protect your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals.

You naturally create free radicals during exercise and when your body turns food into energy. You can also be exposed to free radicals from cigarette smoke, sunlight and air pollution.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that are missing an electron, so they “steal” electrons from the molecules of nearby cells. Doing so damages the DNA, membrane or other parts of cells, changing the way they function. For example, if the cell membrane is damaged, this can change what can enter or leave the cell. Scientists believe that over time, this cellular damage plays a role in the aging process and a variety of illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and more.

The good news is that antioxidants may help protect your cells by acting as electron donors. Essentially, antioxidants give their electrons to free radicals. As a result, the free radicals don’t have to go in search of electrons and damage your healthy cells in the process.

Most foods high in antioxidants are also high in fiber, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and are good sources of vitamins and minerals, making them valuable ingredients to promote overall health and well-being.3 While there are potentially thousands of different substances that act as antioxidants,2 you can find some of the most common ones and their food sources below.


Beta-carotene4 Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli and lettuce
Lutein5 Broccoli, corn, peas and green, leafy vegetables like spinach
Lycopene6 Tomatoes, apricots, guava, papaya and watermelon
Selenium7 Fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, nuts, legumes, bread and cereal
Vitamin A8 Apricots, mangoes, carrots, broccoli, dairy products, salmon and green, leafy vegetables like spinach
Vitamin C9 Oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, strawberries, red and green peppers, broccoli, potatoes and tomatoes
Vitamin E10 Sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils; some nuts, such as almonds and peanuts; and green vegetables like spinach and broccoli


Getting antioxidants through a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meat, nuts, whole grains and legumes is always best. In fact, antioxidant supplements may interact with certain medications, and high-dose antioxidant supplements may be harmful in some cases.1 That’s why it’s always best to talk to your doctor before taking any antioxidant supplements.


1.National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Antioxidants and Health: An Introduction. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm. Accessed August 30, 2014.
2. Harvard School of Public Health. Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/. Accessed August 30, 2014.
3. Mayo Clinic. Slide show: Add antioxidants to your diet. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/multimedia/antioxidants/sls-20076428. Accessed August 29, 2014.
4. University of Maryland Medical Center. Beta-Carotene. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/betacarotene. Accessed August 29, 2014.

Information provided is for general background purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment by a trained professional. You should always consult your physician about any healthcare questions you may have, especially before trying a new medication, diet, fitness program, or approach to healthcare issues.
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