What if there was a way to delay and possibly even prevent the onset of various cancers?
Enter antioxidants: the superheroes in the world of nutrition. Found in diets rich in colourful fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, and seeds, among other healthy foods, antioxidants are invaluable in the nutrition fight against cancer. 1
How Do Antioxidants Work?
On a daily basis, our bodies are bombarded with free radicals: oxygen-containing molecules that are unstable and damaging from an uneven number of electrons.
Free radicals are a normal and very natural way for the body to repair itself. When the body’s natural repair process is overwhelmed (by factors like excessive alcohol, cigarette smoke, sun damage from UV rays, pesticides, pollutants, and a poor diet high in refined and processed foods, and trans fats, and low in fruit and vegetables),this causes free radicals to accumulate. This may lead to cell and DNA damage, (or small mutations/variations in your new cells) called oxidative stress.2
Scientists believe that oxidative stress is what may play a central role in cancer progression.
These free radical molecules seek out other electrons to make themselves more stable. Enter the antioxidant: a powerful molecule that neutralizes damaging free radicals. Think of free radicals like a chair with three legs, it’s unstable and unsteady with the potential to cause damage to cells. Very simply, antioxidants provide a new leg (electron) to make the chair (molecule) steady and stable again.
Where Do I Get Antioxidants?
Thousands of substances can act as antioxidants3, each serving a specific task in the body. There are phenolic compounds like caffeic acid (e.g. coffee) and ellagic acid (e.g. green tea), flavonoids like quercetin (e.g. apples, cranberries, onions, lettuce, broccoli, tomato, olive oil), catechins (e.g. tea), flavones (e.g. celery, parsley) and anthocyanidins (e.g. cherries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes), resveratrol (e.g. red grapes, red wine), lignans (e.g. barley, pomegranate, flaxseeds), tannins (e.g. legumes and leafy green vegetables), and phytoestrogens (e.g. soy), and lutein and zeaxanthin (e.g. eggs). Soluble Fibre and Resistant Starch ferments and turns into short-chain-fatty acids in your colon, helping to feed your good gut bacteria and absorbed into your body, with antioxidant properties.
Supplements or Food: Which Should I Choose?
If antioxidants are so good for us, it’s understandable to assume that high dose antioxidant supplements are the way to go. However, there isn’t much evidence to support that we get our antioxidants from supplements.4
In fact, some studies have even reported that too many antioxidants from supplements5 may even increase our risk of cancer. For example, high dose beta-carotene supplements are a convincing cause of lung cancer in those who smoke, yet this risk is unlikely in skin cancer or prostate cancer. Until more is known about this topic, rather choose food6, which comes packaged with a range of antioxidants, phytonutrients, fibre, and other cancer-protective properties, to best to meet your antioxidant needs.
The great news is that a diet rich in antioxidants is easy, though there is no recommended daily allowance for antioxidants. Simply focus on eating foods from all the colours of the rainbow when choosing your daily fruit and vegetables, such as:
- Red (lycopene): Tomatoes, tomato products, grapefruit, watermelon.
- Purple (anthocyanins and polyphenols): Berries (e.g. blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries), red grapes, plums, certain dried fruit (e.g. prunes, dried cranberries, goji berries).
- Orange (carotene, cryptoxanthin and flavonoids): Carrots, mango, pumpkin, butternut, melon, peaches, oranges, papaya, pawpaw, nectarines.
- Green (sulforaphanes and indoles): Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, avocado, asparagus.
- White (allyl sulphides): Leeks, onion, garlic, chives, fennel.
Other foods containing various antioxidant compounds include coffee, green tea, Rooibos tea, red wine (in controlled portions), red kidney beans, sweet potato, unprocessed wholegrains (e.g. oats, wholegrain bread, whole-wheat pasta, corn), and eggs.
The FitChef Difference
Our FitChef meals are proudly supportive of a diet rich in antioxidants in the quest to help manage our cancer risk:
- High in fibre from wholefoods and wholegrain carbs like brown rice and quinoa.
- High in fruits and vegetables which are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants that may help protect against damaging free radicals.
- No added preservatives, colourants or flavourants.
- No added sugar or ultra-refined carbohydrates (in our ready-to-eat meals) which trigger a host of metabolic changes in the body that kickstart the inflammatory processes that may be linked to cancer.
- Energy and portion controlled to manage weight, a key recommendation in managing our cancer risk.
- Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Other Dietary Exposures and the Risk of Cancer. Available at http://www.dietandcancerreport.org.
- Hamilton KK, Grant BL. Medical nutrition therapy for cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship. In: Mahan LK, Raymond JL, editors. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 14th edition. St Louis, Missouri: Elsevier; 2017. p. 729-756.
- Shahidi F, Ambigaipalan P. Phenolics and polyphenolics in foods, beverages, and spices: Antioxidant activity and health effects – A review. Journal of Functional Foods. 215; 18:820–897.
- Bjelakovic G, Nikolova G, Gluud LL, Simonetti RG, Gluud C. Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases. Sao Paulo Med J. 2015;133(2):164-5.
- Harvie M. Nutritional supplements and cancer: potential benefits and proven harm. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2014;e478-86.
- National Cancer Institute. Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/antioxidants-fact-sheet. Accessed 30 March 2021.