It seems health professionals, food producers and marketers can’t stop talking about antioxidants. But is all the hype about them worth our attention and money? In a word, yes. The power of antioxidants is well researched and documented. Wondering exactly what they are, how they help and how you can get more of them in your diet? Read on to learn about these miracle molecules.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are the enemy of free radicals. These are molecules that circulate in the body and contribute to health problems. Free radicals result from environmental toxins, tobacco smoke and even digestion. Antioxidants help minimize and prevent their damage. Examples of antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E as well as lutein and beta carotene.

How do antioxidants help?

The primary benefit of antioxidants is their demonstrated ability to reduce free radicals. This is important because free radicals are associated with oxidative stress, which causes cell damage. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine oxidative stress is a cause of many health problems such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cardiovascular disease.

Choosing an antioxidant rich diet

Although supplements are widely available the best sources of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables resulted in fewer incidents of a variety of diseases among participants. To enjoy the health benefits of antioxidants aim to consume 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Benefits of some of the most common fruits and vegetables

Tomatoes are high in the antioxidant lycopene, which the American Cancer Society says may reduce the likelihood of certain cancers like stomach, prostate, lung and skin.

Squash, carrots and other yellow, orange and green leafy vegetables and fruits contain beta-carotenes. These are thought to reduce macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Broccoli, spinach, and zucchini are high in lutein. Lutein is thought to help prevent colon cancer, cataracts and breast cancer.

Foods such as cantaloupe, kiwi, red cabbage and red peppers contain good amounts of vitamin c. Vitamin c has been shown to protect against immune system deficiencies and stroke.

The best way to benefit from the power of antioxidants is to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors every day. Have broccoli in your eggs with a side of citrus fruit for breakfast. Go for peppers and hummus for snack; a big green, leafy salad for lunch and a vegetable stir-fry medley for dinner. Skip the high fat dessert and choose berries for an evening snack instead. Convenience foods are everywhere but they are not for every meal or even most meals. Choose antioxidant rich foods often and harness their power to promote good health.