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Micronutrients: Antioxidants and Phytochemicals

Certain vitamins (vitamins C and E), minerals (e.g., zinc, magnesium, and selenium), and carotenoids are essential antioxidants in the body. However, clinical trials indicate that simply adding supplements of antioxidants to a typical American diet is not protective. Evidence suggests that a healthful overall diet is required—namely, a diet that is both low in factors that promote disease and high in antioxidant nutrients.

In addition, an increasing body of evidence indicates that nutrients called phytochemicals are responsible for the majority of antioxidant effects. In general, populations eating greater amounts of phytochemical–containing foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) have a significantly lower risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis.

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