Updated: August 01, 2013

Looking to stay healthy this winter? Load up on antioxidants-a.k.a. substances found in fruits, veggies and other healthy foods that help protect against free radicals (harmful molecules from broken-down foods, smoke and pollutants).

Here's how it works: Free radicals are released during the process of oxidation, which is when cells in the body die and are replaced by new, healthy cells. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, sort of. These "free radical" cells are actually missing an important molecule, which causes them to attach themselves to healthy cells and attack them, causing a chain reaction. The result can make you sick for the short-term (colds, flu, etc.) and potentially, the long-term (they may contribute to heart problems, cancer, Alzheimer's and other diseases).

Enter antioxidants from healthy foods, which prevent free radicals from causing a chain reaction of damaging cells (and making you sick). Think of these antioxidants-including beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, and vitamins A, C and E-as your natural defenders, shielding healthy cells from being attacked. So what healthy foods should you be eating? Here's what to stock up on next time you hit the grocery store.

ANTIOXIDANT FRUITS

Antioxidant fruits include berries, citrus fruits and even dried fruits like apricots, prunes and raisins-all of which play a key role in protecting your body and maintaining a strong immune system. Keep these antioxidant fruits on hand to maintain a healthy diet and avoid getting sick this winter.

  • Apricots
  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Pomegranate
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Bananas
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Nectarines
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Raisins

ANTIOXIDANT VEGETABLES

Ditch the sandwich and pack a salad for lunch for a mid-day meal packed with healthy antioxidants. Warning: Heating vegetables can reduce their nutritional benefits, so your best bet is to go raw. Bored with salads? Make healthy breakfast shakes with carrots and some of your favorite fruits to start the day with a healthy dose of antioxidants that you can literally sip on your way to work.

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Green Peppers
  • Kale
  • Red Cabbage
  • Sweet Potatoes

ANTIOXIDANT NUTS/SEEDS/GRAINS

On the go? Toss some sunflower seeds or nuts in a bag for a quick dose of healthy antioxidants. Another option: Make an avocado, tuna or lean-meat sandwich using whole-grain bread.

  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Whole grains

ANTIOXIDANT PROTEINS

Zinc and selenium, much like the healthy antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, help guard against free radicals. Just don't overdo it, since some proteins (like red meat) can be high in fat. Vegetarian? No problem. Pinto beans and kidney beans are both excellent antioxidant foods that will protect your cells.

  • Oysters
  • Red Meat
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Tuna
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