Antioxidants: Why are they important?

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals – molecules produced when your body breaks down food or is exposed to tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and carotenoids may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Plant-based foods are the best sources. These include fruits, vegetables and their juices, whole-grain products, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and even chocolate.

What better time to increase your family’s consumption of fruits and vegetables? Summertime typically provides a constant source of seasonal produce. I encourage you to try a new fruit or vegetable this week for the antioxidant benefit and a whole lot more.

Peaches, a sweet and juicy summer staple, are rich in vitamin A, which supports eye, immune and skin health. Lemonade and limeade are a seasonal favorite. Both lemons and limes are a good source of vitamin C, an essential vitamin that supports bone and immune health.

Summer berries come in a variety of colors and offer many healthful benefits. Cherries are rich in potassium, strawberries are full of vitamin C and blueberries contain flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that supports total health.

We all know carrots are rich in vitamin A, but they’re also a good source of potassium. An essential nutrient, potassium helps keep cells functioning, as well as regulating the balance of body fluids. Take your pick of red, green, orange and yellow – vibrant sweet peppers are a good source of potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A.

Green beans are a great source of vitamin K, which helps blood clot. Cucumbers are a great source of magnesium, which, along with phosphorus, is required for bone mineral metabolism. Beefsteak, cherry, grape, yellow and even green – with so many tomato varieties, there’s a favorite for everyone. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin A, potassium and vitamin K.

The following recipe (courtesy of What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl University of Maryland Extension) can be made with any flavor of cream cheese and any fruit you like! Enjoy!


  • 1 English muffin
  • 2 tablespoons whipped, fat-free strawberry cream cheese
  • 2 grapes, sliced
  • 2 strawberries, sliced (optional)
  • 2 slices of mandarin oranges

1. Toast the English muffin until golden brown in a toaster or on a skillet. Spread cream cheese on toasted muffin.

2. Arrange sliced strawberries, grapes and mandarin oranges.

Nutrition information per serving: 179 calories; 1 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 10 g protein; 32 g carbohydrates; 3 g fiber; 466 mg sodium.

Tanya Davis is a Wise County Extension agent.

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