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Protect Yourself From Illness - Eat Your Antioxidants!

Brittany Twiss, Program Assistant, NDSU Extension Service

After the long flu and cold season, March is a good time to focus our bodies in the continued fight against infection and disease. Breathing, physical activity and other lifestyle habits produce substances called free radicals that attack healthy cells. When these healthy cells are weakened, they are more susceptible to disease and certain types of cancers. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and carotenoids help protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals.


Foods high in carotenoids may be effective in helping prevent certain cancers and may help decrease your risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.

Foods high in carotenoids include red, orange, deep-yellow and some dark-green leafy vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, spinach, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, winter squash and broccoli.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, in addition to other roles. It helps protect your body from cell damage that can promote the development of cancer, heart disease and cataracts as we age. Vitamin E works with other antioxidants such as vitamin C to offer protection from some chronic diseases. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, salad dressings, wheat germ, whole-grain products, seeds, nuts and peanut butter.

Vitamin C

The best-known antioxidant, vitamin C, offers a wide variety of health benefits including protecting your body from infection and damage to body cells, helping produce collagen and helping in the absorption of iron and folate.

To take advantage of these benefits, eat foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits including oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and potatoes.

Challenges to Healthful Eating

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 2 cups of fruits and 3 cups of vegetables daily is a good start for healthful living. Remember: fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are all nutritious! Choose frozen and canned options without added sugar or salt.

Hungry for more tips? Visit to learn more about “The Family Table” so you can eat, connect and stay safe at the family table. Join the challenges and sign up for an electronic newsletter with recipes and tips. Follow the program on Facebook for more tips, meal plans and ideas for getting conversations going during family meals.


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Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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