For the last decade we as have heard repeatedly how important antioxidants are for us, and every other day we learn about another new superfood claiming magical powers—maybe because there seems to be always some emerging research in this field. But what’s funny to me is that most people don’t even know what an antioxidant is.

According to a new survey for MonaVie, a nutritional products compnay, 92 percent of Americans cannot give an accurate description of an “antioxidant.” In addition, 91 percent cannot recognize one or more sources of foods rich in antioxidants, even though 75 percent of Americans say they try to eat foods full of this nutrient.

So what is an antioxidant?
An antioxidant is a vitamin, mineral, or other nutrient that may protect and repair cells in the body against damage caused by free radicals. A free radical could occur for many reasons, including exposure to pollution, tobacco smoke, chemicals, or an unhealthy diet.

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Which foods are rich in them?
Various antioxidants are found in a variety of foods. Here’s just a few.
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: spinach, sweet potato, tomatoes, apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, kale, mangoes, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash
Vitamin C: bell peppers (red, green, or yellow), strawberries, tomatoes, berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, nectarines, orange, papaya
Vitamin E: broccoli, carrots, chard, red peppers, spinach, mustard and turnip greens, nuts, sunflower seeds
Zinc: oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals, dairy products
Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry and fortified breads, other grain products

What are they really good for?
With all the research to date, sometimes it does seem that antioxidants are good for everything including the kitchen sink. But from what I could find, most studies suggest that antioxidants can help reduce the risk for certain cancers and heart disease—but even this is still not 100-percent conclusive. And specifically vitamins C and E, zinc, and beta-carotene may decrease the risk of age-related eye disease as well. As for fertility, a recent review published in the Cochrane Library found that antioxidants did not increase a women’s chance of conceiving or having a baby, whether she or her partner took the supplements.

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Bottom line: The thing to remember is that antioxidants are not a silver bullet to health. Loading up on supplements is not recommended and can actually be unsafe. However there really is no down side to including antioxidants in the form of a variety of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, as they are high in fiber, low in calories and fat, and taste really, really good.

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