Antioxidants are present in foods as vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and polyphenols, among others.
Many antioxidants are often identified in food by their distinctive colors—the deep red of cherries and of tomatoes; the orange of carrots; the yellow of corn, mangos, and saffron; and the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. The most well-known components of food with antioxidant activities are vitamins A, C, and E; β-carotene; the mineral selenium; and more recently, the compound lycopene.
While the body has its defenses against oxidative stress, these defenses are thought to become less effective with aging as oxidative stress becomes greater. Consumption of antioxidants is thought to provide protection against oxidative damage and contribute positive health benefits. For example, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin engage in antioxidant activities that have been shown to increase macular pigment density in the eye.
Examples of Antioxidant Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins Daily Reference Intakes*
Vitamin A 300-900 µg-d / Protects cells from free radicals / Liver, dairy products, fish
Vitamin C 15-90 mg-d /Protects cells from free radicals/ Bell peppers, citrus fruits
Vitamin E 6-15 mg-d / Protects cells from free radicals, helps with immune function and DNA repair/ Oils, fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, mixed nuts
Selenium 20-55 µg-d /Helps prevent cellular damage from free radicals/ Brazil nuts, meats, tuna, plant foods
From Food and Nutrition Board Institute of Medicine DRI reports and National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
*DRI’s provided are a range for Americans ages 2-70.