National Nutrition Month: Understanding Antioxidants

Megan Ray  |  March 7, 2013

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has declared March National Nutrition Month, which means it's a great time for senior caregivers to focus on the nutritional aspects of their loved ones' elder care plans. Nutrition is one of the most important components of successful aging, considering it provides seniors with the vitamins and minerals they need to keep their bodies functioning healthfully.

Antioxidants are among the key elements in any diet plan. These nutrients, including vitamins like A, C and E as well as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium, fight off free radicals, the naturally produced molecules in the human body that cause common health conditions like cancer, heart disease and age-related eye diseases, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Free radicals are a part of life - they are produced when you breathe, when you are exposed to sunlight and when your body breaks down food. The one defense you have against these cancer-causing molecules is your diet - that is, making sure you are consuming enough antioxidants to fight off those free radicals.

Indeed, studies have shown that taking a supplement to get the recommended daily value of antioxidants is not enough - it's better when they come from food. In 2004, MSNBC reported a study found that fruits and vegetables provided better antioxidant protection than a supplement. The research also noted that phytochemicals, other nutritional substances found in produce, provide non-antioxidant benefits to the body that were also able to control the growth of cancer cells.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, your plate should be half filled with fruits and vegetables for every meal, and a variety of produce is best to get a range of antioxidants and other nutrients.

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