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Why do I need antioxidants in my diet and how can I be sure I get enough?

Marjorie Fitch-Hilgenberg, associate professor of human environmental sciences in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, replies:

Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals, which rob electrons from other molecules, setting off a chain reaction.

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating an electron and remaining stable to break the chain reaction. Damage by free radicals may lead to cancer, heart disease and aging. Beta-carotene and vitamins C, E and A are antioxidants. Enzymes participate in antioxidant activities and need minerals such as selenium, zinc, manganese, iron and copper to function.

A wide variety of foods is essential to get all the antioxidants and nutrients a person needs to stay “healthy.” To maximize the health benefits of antioxidants and other nutrients, eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits daily with lots of variety and color on the plate.

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