Rarely do we welcome the dreaded day we see our first forehead wrinkle in the mirror, the time we are forced to throw away those skinny jeans that fit so perfectly in college, or the instance we discover a gray intruder among the cluster of brown hairs in our comb. Aging is an inevitable process that many fear and try to prevent as long as possible. Why do some people seem to jump on the aging train earlier than others? Mom and dad can be the first to blame if your wrinkles show up sooner than your co-worker’s since genetics serve as a key player in the aging process. Your level of “radical” living, however, also affects how soon you have to throw away those skinny jeans.

Free radicals live up to their name, as they are capable of causing “radical” changes in the body. Free radicals consist of groups of atoms that are highly reactive. If these molecules become too “free” and start reacting with important cells in the body, cell damage and death can occur and accelerate the aging process or stimulate diseases varying from cataracts to cancer.

Fortunately our bodies have a resident police force to arrest these free radicals and prevent them from harming our bodies. These protective molecules are called antioxidants. They neutralize free radicals to keep our necessary cells out of harms way. The less free radicals we have on the loose in our bodies, the slower the aging process will be. A study published by the International Journal of Weekly Science says that oxidative stress, caused by free radicals, is intimately connected to one’s life span. Therefore, decreasing this stress by increasing the amount of antioxidants in your body will help to slow the aging process.

Our bodies don’t supply antioxidants on their own, but take them from nutrients that are found, or should be found, in our diet, specifically selenium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, and E. Though there are many foods that contain these ingredients, the most antioxidant-rich foods are fruits and vegetables. The average American is unfortunately not getting nearly as many fruits and vegetables as they need. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), anyone over two years old should consume at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day. Unfortunately, a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released in 2010 revealed that only one in three American adults receives an adequate amount of fruit each day and one in four American adults receives an adequate amount of vegetables each day.

What are some ways to slow the aging process and prevent early diseases? Throwing a handful of antioxidant-rich blueberries into your cereal in the morning will not only improve you cognitive function throughout the day, but will also provide more antioxidants per calorie than its sister fruits. Red beans are one of the only foods that have an even higher antioxidant capacity than blueberries. Try adding a half of a cup to your soup at lunch as an easy way to fit in a sufficient amount of antioxidants. Both red delicious and granny smith apples are antioxidant rich. Packing an extra apple a day in your lunchbox, might just keep the doctors away! Other antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables include cranberries, cooked artichokes, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, plums, and cooked potatoes.

If you’re not the biggest fan of fruits and vegetables, here’s some good news! Recent studies show that homemade popcorn (not the butter-soaked and over-processed kind found at the movie theatres) might actually have a higher antioxidant capacity than fruits and vegetables. Raw pecans are also another antioxidant-rich snack for those who are not fruit and veggie lovers. Incorporating antioxidant-rich foods that you like into your daily diet will neutralize extra free radicals, and may just add a few years onto your life!