Shannon Burman, RD
Clinical Registered Dietitian
What’s Coming Up? Fighting Cancer with Your Fork Nutrition Classes:
Plant Based Diets May 9 • 10:00 a.m.
Healthy Hydration June 13 • 10:00 a.m.
Mission Hope Cancer Center
Integrating Antioxidants into Your Diet
You’ve likely heard or seen the terms, “superfood,” “power food,” or “cancer-fighting ingredients.” But what do these all mean? While some of these terms may be marketing gimmicks, they are likely describing the health benefits that antioxidant-containing foods possess. But what exactly are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are chemicals that protect and prevent damage that occurs as part of normal oxidative metabolism. They interact with and stop free radicals from causing damage to cells throughout the body. So then what are “free radicals”? Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that have the potential to harm cells. At high concentrations in the body, free radicals can damage a cell’s DNA (genetic makeup), proteins or cell membranes. This damage can play a role in the development of cancer. Therefore, antioxidants (also known as “free-radical scavengers”) help to prevent the damage that free radicals cause.
While the body produces some of its own antioxidants, we rely on dietary sources to get all that we need. Dietary sources include and vitamins C, E and carotenoids which include beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein which can be found in many fruits and vegetables.
Perhaps the best-known antioxidant, vitamin C is found in citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits and tangerines), strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and potatoes.
Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, wheat germ, whole-grain products, seeds, nuts and peanut butter.
Carotenoids (including beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein) are found in red, orange, deep-yellow and some dark-green leafy vegetables. Examples would be tomatoes, carrots, spinach, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, winter squash and broccoli.
What about Antioxidant Supplements?
The National Cancer Institute states, that despite many research studies, they have not found enough evidence to say that antioxidant supplements are beneficial in preventing cancer. They even report that supplementation may increase risk of certain cancers. Rather, it is believed that the synergistic effect of whole fruits and vegetables is more preventative than individual supplements.
For those undergoing treatment it is not recommended to take any antioxidant supplements because of possible drugnutrient interactions. Supplements can contain high doses of antioxidants which are not normally found in food. Because of this, it is recommended to have a balanced diet rich in antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
The bottom line is that an antioxidant-rich diet—along with maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active—has been shown to be protective against cancer and beneficial during treatment. As a rule of thumb, remember to “eat the rainbow”—meaning choose fruits and vegetables in all different colors. Different foods have varying types and concentrations of antioxidants; in an effort to get a variety and achieve balance, choose from as wide a selection as you can. If you need more guidance in choosing appropriate foods, you can make an appointment with the dietitian by calling 805.219.HOPE (4673).