Slide show: Add antioxidants to your diet
Antioxidants: Top food sources
Previous Next 1 of 7 Antioxidants: Why are they important?

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. Other naturally occurring antioxidants include flavonoids, tannins, phenols and lignans. 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.

As a bonus, most foods high in antioxidants are high in fiber, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and good sources of vitamins and minerals. So enjoy the variety.

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