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    It's a message you've probably heard before: Keep yourself healthy with the right mix of vitamins. But which ones, you wonder, and should I pop pills or get the nutrients through the food I eat?

    The best thing to do is to keep up a balanced diet. But supplements can be a good way to fill in the gaps when they happen.

    Antioxidants

    This group includes vitamin A -- retinol, beta carotene, and carotenoids --, vitamin C, and vitamin E. They appear to play a role in protecting you from tiny particles your body makes, called free radicals, that can tear cells apart.

    Antioxidants may lower the risk of some health problems and slow aging. Some researchers also think they help boost the immune system, your body's defense against germs.

    Antioxidants include:

    Beta-carotene. Your body changes it to vitamin A, a nutrient that helps eyesight, soft tissue, and skin. You'll find it in apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, guava, kale, papaya, peaches, pumpkins, red peppers, spinach, and tomatoes.

    Vitamin C. You may also hear it called ascorbic acid. It heals wounds and helps your body make red blood cells. It also boosts levels of the brain chemical called noradrenaline, which makes you feel more alert and amps up your concentration.

    Studies show that when you're under a lot of stress, or as you get older, your levels of ascorbic acid go down. You can get vitamin C from broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, and tomatoes.

    Vitamin E. It's also known as tocopherol and includes related compounds called tocotrienols. Your body needs it to keep cells healthy. It may slow signs of aging, too. But you raise your risk of bleeding if you take too much of it every day. You can get this nutrient in foods like margarine, corn oil, cod-liver oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter, safflower oil, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.

    B Vitamins

    There are a few types of these nutrients, and they're all good for your body. But three of them -- vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid -- are especially important.

    Vitamin B6 is also known as pyridoxine. You need it to keep your brain working well and to help your body change food into energy, which is called metabolism. It can be toxic if you get too much of it at once, so your best bet is to eat foods that have this nutrient in it. Try fish, potatoes, chickpeas, avocadoes, bananas, beans, cereal, meats, oatmeal, and poultry.