Although you might think a word starting with “anti” would be negative, you actually can’t get much better than antioxidants when it comes to keeping your body healthy inside and out. Foods high in this chemical compound are considered to be top nutritional choices, often recommended by experts as a way to counteract dangerous free radicals within our bodies. When a typical oxidation process goes bad, antioxidants are there to help your body cope – and the more antioxidants that are present in your system, the better the defense. And if you go beyond the scientific processes, it’s reassuring to know that eating antioxidant-rich foods can just be plain good for your body and your skin.

Yet it can be easy to be confused about what you should be eating in order to get the maximum amount of antioxidants. As with many get-healthy-quick schemes over the years, antioxidants have developed a sort of health halo, and have begun to be added to many processed foods as a nutrition booster. But when it comes to helping bolster your body’s internal workings – as well as your external appearance – adding specific valuable fruits, vegetables, legumes and more could be the key in developing protection against some seriously malicious diseases.

Oxidation and the Dangers of Free Radicals

If you’ve ever watched the flesh of an apple turn brown after it’s been cut and exposed to the air, then you’ve seen oxidation in action. Oxidation occurs when oxygen removes electrons from atoms, thus changing its properties. Although oxidation is a natural occurrence within the human body, it can become corrupted by factors like smoking and UV rays. When this happens, the oxidation process can release free radicals, damaging molecules that can harm the body internally by causing cell death or even mutations that can lead to certain cancers. The Atlantic also notes that free radicals might be behind Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and other illnesses that can ravage our bodily systems.

It’s not just internal damage, either – free radicals can affect the cells on our faces and bodies, causing skin to look much older than it is. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays can also add up, which can result in loss of skin’s collagen and fine lines. If you’re eating a poor diet coupled with a refusal to wear sunscreen, your body will be far more susceptible to an invasion of free radicals.

free radicals

Introducing Antioxidants and their Benefits

The best way to stop free radicals? By eating antioxidant-rich foods to clean them up. An article at Harvard notes that even though the body’s defense system can protect itself from free radicals, antioxidants add an extra layer of protection: “We aren’t defenseless against free radicals. The body, long used to this relentless attack, makes scads of molecules that quench free radicals as surely as water douses fire. We also extract free-radical fighters from food. These defenders are often lumped together as “antioxidants.” They work by generously giving electrons to free radicals without turning into electron-scavenging substances themselves.”

When you ingest something that’s rich in antioxidants, you’re helping to sweep free radicals out of your system before they can cause any harm to your cells or DNA. These foods are typically high in vitamins A, C and E, and some contain high amounts of helpful selenium and manganese – the “antioxidant minerals” – as well.

Good Sources of Antioxidants

Although you could take supplements to help add antioxidants to your diet, there should be no need to do so if you’re eating a healthy variety of foods. There’s also some debate over whether or not antioxidant supplements may provide too much of a good thing, which is even more of a reason to get all your nutrients from your everyday diet. (Check out this informative piece from TIME Magazine’s website about how antioxidant supplements can’t stack up against what you can absorb from your food!)

For examples of antioxidant-rich foods to add to your diet, click “next” below.