Antioxidants in Food

Let’s start by discussing, what is an antioxidant? By definition, an antioxidant is an agent that inhibits oxidation.  Free radicals form in the body as a part of normal cellular metabolism and respiration.  Antioxidants are nutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as enzymes (proteins in the body that assist in chemical reactions).  Antioxidants are believed to contribute to the prevention of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Rheumatoid arthritis and cataracts (1).  Today we are going to discuss the significance of Vitamin A, C and E and natural food sources of these vitamins.

Vitamin A

Let’s get started with Vitamin A! Vitamin A is involved in many physiological processes that occur in the body.  It is involved in immune function, vision, reproduction and cellular communication (2-4). To find out more about Vitamin A and how it works check out

It is that time of year again, the kids are back in school, football has started, fall colors, foods and decorations are filling the aisles at the store……yes, it is that wonderful time of year. Along with fall, comes cooler weather, runny noses, cough, etc…. so now is the time to take care of yourself and get your body prepared by eating antioxidant-rich foods.  Today’s blog post is going to be all about how to incorporate these antioxidant-rich foods that are in abundance this time of year into your diet, in a healthy way.

Today, I want to show you some fun ways to incorporate foods that are high in Vitamin A into your diet, such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash and black-eyed peas.

First, we will talk about sweet potatoes!  Sweet potatoes pack a huge punch of Vitamin A, providing approximately 567% of the DV (daily value) of vitamin A.  I chose this recipe, “Baked Sweet Potato Tots” for many reasons. First, there are minimal ingredients, which makes it super easy to prep.  Next, if you have a family or picky adult eater, this is a great way to incorporate healthy vegetables in a way that tastes great and mocks “tator tots”, a classic American food.

Butternut Squash Noodles

Like Sweet potatoes, butternut squash is plentiful in the Fall months here in Iowa. It is a delicious addition to your meal whether it is roasted, toasted, pureed, mashed, used in casseroles, soups, breads and muffins. Butternut squash is naturally high in Vitamin A (approximately 67% DV), Vitamin E, C, B-6, fiber, magnesium and potassium(5).

On my guest appearance episode of “The Dr. Heidi Koch Show”, I showed you a fun and easy way to prepare butternut squash, and that was called Spiralizing! If you missed the episode be sure to check that out. I also included a link to a “How-to” video so that you feel completely confident making your butternut squash noodles.

Butternut Squash Noodles with Shredded Brussels Sprouts, Walnuts and Caramelized Onions

Black-eyed Peas

Black-eyed peas (a.k.a cowpeas or California Buckeye) are legumes that are pale in color with a prominent black spot. They are a good source of calcium, folate, fiber, protein and vitamin A among many other nutrients. I chose to showcase the tip recipe below, because it is such a tasty yet unique recipe that would be great to take to your next tailgate or party and is super easy to make! It can be eaten as a dip with chips, plain or wrapped in lettuce for a tasty lettuce wrap snack or meal. Enjoy!

Vitamin C

Our next antioxidant is Vitamin C.  Vitamin C is probably considered to be the most popular and well-known Vitamin due to it’s widespread use as a supplement.  Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid is found naturally in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables, but is also added to others and can also be found as a dietary supplement (6).  Check out the website below for more detailed information on Vitamin C.

The fruits and vegetables that were discussed during my guest appearance on “The Dr. Heidi Koch Show” were bell Peppers, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and grapefruit.  Here on the blog, I am going to show you some simple and tasty ways to incorporate a few of these foods into your next meal!

Brussel Sprouts

It seems that every time I mention brussel sprouts to my patients, friends or family I get a weird look and a comment like, “Ew” or “Not a big fan” so my common response is, “Have you had them cooked correctly?”  Most people report that they have only had brussel sprouts whole and boiled, steamed or roasted this way, which is not the most appetizing way to eat this highly nutritious vegetable!  I challenge you to try cutting them (I usually quarter them, depending on size), then drizzle with olive and season with salt and pepper. In my house, we prefer them roasted or grilled, but you could also do steamed or sautéed.  They are SO good and a good source of Vitamin C!


Cauliflower is another vegetable that is packed with Vitamin C and many other antioxidants.  It is a low-carb vegetable that is also very versatile. Many popular ways to eat cauliflower include; cauliflower pizza crust, mashed and riced. With all of these methods, cauliflower is proven to be a great low-carb alternative to it’s higher carb counter parts without losing nutrients!  One of my favorite ways to prepare cauliflower is to mash it like mashed potatoes, especially this time of year.  We are typically seeking comfort foods as the weather gets cooler and this is the perfect low-carb comfort food to pair with all your favorite cold-weather meals.

Baked Sweet Potato Tots

Recipe adapted from

By Jessica

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant.  Just like the other antioxidants, it can be found naturally occurring in some foods, added to others and also found in supplements.  Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin known for it’s ability to protect cells from free radicals and it’s ability to stop the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can result from environmental exposure and fat oxidation (7).  For more detailed information on this vitamin go to .  The 2 sources that were discussed on the show, were almonds and sunflower seeds.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:


Almonds are probably one of my all-time favorite snacks.  They also happen to be a great source many nutrients. From Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat to Fiber, Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Vitamin E and B-complex vitamins, you are sure to get many of the nutrients you are needing from this wonderful tree nut! Almonds are not only for eating whole, but they are also commonly made into almond milk, flour, oil, etc to be used in many diverse ways.  One  portion size of almonds is 1oz of almonds or approximately 23 almonds = 160 calories (8)

Sunflower Seeds-

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Sunflower seeds are also a great source of Vitamin E as well as essential fatty acids and other vitamins and minerals.  Here are some fun ways to incorporate sunflower seeds into your diet:

  • Roasted and salted, they can be enjoyed as a healthy snack.
  • Add to salads for extra crunch.
  • Sprinkle sunflower kernels over fried-rice dishes or sautéed vegetables as garnish.
  • The seeds can be added to salad dressings, casseroles or baked goods.
  • Sunflower seed butter, sold as SunButter, is a suitable alternative in peanut allergics.

In conclusion, let’s stand together and make this year the healthiest year yet!  By adding some of the foods discussed in this blog post and as seen on “The Dr. Heidi Koch Show” to your diet, you can better prepare your mind and body for the cold weather and the illnesses that come with it. Let your food be medicine! If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jessica Schroeder, RDN, LD at

Be sure to view my guest appearance on “The Dr. Heidi Koch Show”!!!


Be well!



  1. Robin Brett Parnes “Antioxidants: What You Need to Know” 26 November 2002. 6 September 2016
  2. Johnson EJ, Russell RM. Beta-Carotene. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010:115-20.
  3. Solomons NW. Vitamin A. In: Bowman B, Russell R, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 9th ed. Washington, DC: International Life Sciences Institute; 2006:157-83.
  4. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.
  5. “Squash, Winter, Butternut, Raw.” U.S. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. USDA, May 2016. Web. 08 Sept. 2016.
  6. “Vitamin C — Health Professional Fact Sheet.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.
  7. “Vitamin E — Health Professional Fact Sheet.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.
  8. “Client Handouts.” Almond Board of California. Almond Board of California, n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.