Antioxidants are all the rage in health news today. Antioxidants are nutrients found in plants that help decrease inflammation that causes chronic disease. They do this by neutralizing harmful substances called free radicals in the body. Free radicals wreak havoc on your cells, firing up your immune response. Since antioxidants neutralize free radicals, you may have been eating tomatoes, kale, blueberries, spinach and other colorful fruits and vegetables until you are blue in the face. But did you know that you may not be absorbing those antioxidants, even after doing your best to juice, blend, and snack on carrots? Certain antioxidants can only be absorbed with the presence of heat, meaning raw vegetables do not deliver a healthy dose of antioxidants. Yes, you read that right. Raw food may not have all your answers. This might be surprising because of the popularity of the raw food diet. While raw foods are healthy for you (they have all kinds of other nutrients in them!), they are not the only way you should be eating your food. There are ways to maximize antioxidant absorption.

A Group of Antioxidants

A group of antioxidants called carotenoids give orange, yellow, and red vegetables their color. Ever heard that eating too many carrots will make your skin turn orange? That’s because of orange-colored Beta Carotene in carrots. Beta carotene is just one of many carotenoids. Other carotenoids include lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. The trick to absorbing these guys is heat and fat. These antioxidants are locked up in fruits and vegetables, and require heat to release them. You should also add a little fat with these orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are easier for you body to absorb with the presence of fat. This doesn’t mean you are allowed to run out to the nearest donut shop and order a dozen donuts without any regret. Choose to cook your vegetables with coconut oil (which you can use at higher heat) or olive oil (which you can use at a lower heat).

Here are some carotenoids and how they make you healthier!

  • Beta carotene: improve immune function. Studies have revealed Beta carotene has improved biomarkers associated with inflammation.
    • Found in carrots, sweet potato, cantaloup, winter squash, and leafy greens.
  • Lycopene:improve immune function. Current research shows that lycopene can help significantly reduce the risk of developing prostate and lunch cancer. Lycopene neutralizes more free radicals than any other carotenoid.
    • Found in tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papaya
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: prevent damage done to the eyes from light. Blue light can cause free radicals to form in parts of the eye. Lutein and zeaxanthin neutralize the free radicals and help filter in less of the harmful blue light.
    • Found in peppers, leafy greens, spices, summer squash, winter squash, and pumpkin

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