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Health Briefs

Up the antioxidants for a healthier diet

Is healthy eating one of your goals? You don't have to do a major diet overhaul to benefit from improved nutrition. A few additions to your day-to-day diet choices can improve your overall health. Some of these healthy additions are foods that contain antioxidants.

Antioxidants are substances that protect your cells against damage from free radicals – unstable, "incomplete" molecules that are naturally formed when your body converts food into energy. Free radicals attach themselves to other cells, which damages those cells. Many believe that antioxidants play a role in preventing the development of such chronic diseases as cancer, heart disease, and stroke by neutralizing free radicals.

So where can you find antioxidants? Antioxidants come in the form of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes (a type of protein). It is more effective to get antioxidants from natural sources like healthy foods rather than from supplements. Many fruits and vegetables are good sources, and you can also find them in other foods and drinks.

Green Tea
You don't have to read tea leaves to predict that the world's second most-often-consumed beverage is good for you. Green tea, which has more antioxidants than black tea, is thought to have other health benefits as well as providing antioxidants. Drink your green tea in moderation. Drinking large amounts may make it harder for your body to absorb some medications and iron supplements.

Coffee
If a cup of green tea is not your cup of tea, try coffee. Coffee is the leading source of antioxidants in the American diet. Coffee contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant also found in red wine and chocolate. Like tea, be sure to drink coffee in moderation.

Raspberries
Besides being rich in vitamin C, raspberries are loaded with many health benefits. And raspberries don't lose their nutritional value when frozen or freeze-dried. For the best health benefits, snack on black raspberries. They are even higher in the good stuff than the lighter ones. Eating just four average-sized black raspberries offers more antioxidants than a serving of most other fruits and vegetables.

Flaxseed
A serving of two tablespoons of flaxseed meal are a good source for a particular type of antioxidant called lignans. Flaxseeds should be eaten ground. Otherwise they won't be fully digested, and you won't be able to get the nutrients from them. Add them to your oatmeal or smoothie or put them into pancakes or muffins.

Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are packed with antioxidants. And with five grams of fiber per tablespoon, adding just two tablespoons of the seeds to your yogurt in the morning will double the fiber intake of the average American. Eating foods that contain high amounts of fiber has been linked to healthier cholesterol levels and an overall lower risk for heart disease and diabetes. Besides fiber, chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Both nutrients are powerful promoters of heart health.

Blueberries
Also known as a "superfood," blueberries are valued for high levels of antioxidants. Blueberries have a high water content, which makes them hydrating for your skin and other cells of the body. They are low in calories and high in nutrients, making them a great addition to a meal or snack.

The best way to build a healthful eating plan is to eat well-balanced meals and snacks each day and to enjoy a wide variety of foods. Eating at least two cups of fruits and two and a half cups of vegetables daily is a good start for healthful living.

Find out how even healthy foods can be bad for you if you're taking certain drugs.