The Magnificent Seven

The same evolutionary process that transformed us from hairy hunchbacks with underbites to smooth-skinned consumers of whitening toothpaste also gave us the ability to fight free radicals on our own. Our bodies make a variety of antioxidants (all with tongue-twisting names, like superoxide dismutase) that break down the free radicals that can form during normal cell metabolism.

Unfortunately, no matter how much overtime they put in, internally produced antioxidants can't battle all the free radicals flying around—especially in today's world of mercury-filled fish and Hummer fumes. Again, evolution helps us out by filling our food supply with these molecular superheroes. "Our bodies evolved to take advantage of protective substances found in the foods available to us," Blumberg says.

Each day scientists are discovering more amazing ways antioxidants keep us alive and well—and they're still discovering new varieties. But these seven heavy hitters have the most research to back them up. Fill up your plate with the following nutrients and start mowing down those free-radical bastards.

This overachiever isn't annoying like the teacher's pet back in high school. The trace mineral does double duty—it acts as an antioxidant itself and speeds up your body's natural antioxidant-making process. In a study at Cornell University and the University of Arizona of 1,312 patients with skin cancer, those who got 200 micrograms of selenium daily for 10 years reduced their risk of dying from any cancer-—not just skin cancer—by 18 percent, compared with those who took a placebo.

Shoot for:
the DV of 55 micrograms
Best food sources: Brazil nuts (95.8 mcg per nut), snapper (41.6 mcg per 3 ounces), and shrimp (33.7 mcg per 3 ounces)

Vitamin E
The health-conscious side of us appreciates that this antioxidant fights heart disease, boosts immunity, and helps stop cell damage that leads to skin cancer. But let's face it: We love that this vitamin also keeps the ravages of time from showing up on our face. In a Korean study, mice exposed to ultraviolet sunlight were less likely to wrinkle when they consumed vitamin E (along with a host of other antioxidants).

Shoot for:
the DV of 15 milligrams
Best food sources: Sunflower seeds (10.3 mg per ounce), hazelnuts (4.3 mg per ounce), and peanut butter (2.9 mg per 2 tablespoons)

Vitamin C
It's not just for colds anymore. Now it protects your DNA and helps your body use vitamin E more efficiently. Research has shown that C has a talent for protecting blood vessels and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. In a six-year study of 5,197 people at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, those who consumed the highest amounts of vitamin C had the lowest risk of stroke.

Shoot for: at least the DV of 75 milligrams
Best food sources: Papaya (187.9 mg per fruit), bell peppers (119 mg per cup), and broccoli (81.2 mg per cup)

This pigment helps protect your eyes and skin from sun damage. In a study of 5,836 people in the Netherlands, consumption of beta-carotene—one of many carotenoids—was found to reduce the risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness.

Shoot for:
Scientists have no standard goal for carotenoids other than the DV of 2,310 international units (IU) for vitamin A (a form of beta-carotene).
Best food sources: Carrots, butternut squash, and spinach

These antioxidants put cancer-causing enzymes in a headlock. In a study of more than 1,400 people at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, researchers found that people who ate more isothiocyanate-rich foods reduced their risk of bladder cancer by 29 percent.

Shoot for:
Scientists have no standard goal for isothiocyanates.
Best food sources: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower

Raise a glass of pinot noir to polyphenols—they've turned our favorite vice into a virtue. Researchers at Columbia University studied 980 people and found that those who drank up to three glasses per day of wine—rich in flavonoids, a polyphenol—were less likely to develop memory-loss problems such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease. In a test-tube study at the Leeds Dental Institute in the UK, the polyphenols in cocoa reduced the growth of two types of bacteria that can trigger gum disease.

Shoot for:
Scientists have no standard goal for polyphenols.
Best food sources: Dark chocolate (the higher the cocoa content, the better), red wine, tea, and coffee

Coenzyme Q10
Its nickname sounds like R2D2's cousin—and CoQ10 is a cell-protecting machine. It's also been linked with the prevention of migraines, which it may accomplish by guarding brain cells. In a study of 42 migraine patients in Zurich, those who took CoQ10 had half as many headaches over three months as those who took a dummy pill. The enzyme may also help lower blood pressure.

Shoot for: Scientists have no standard for CoQ10.
Best food sources: Lean beef, chicken breast, and fish (all types).
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