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The Role of Antioxidants in Preventing Breast Cancer

Learn about antioxidants as a way to prevent cancer through nutrition

Women who eat well and maintain a healthy weight have been shown to develop breast cancer at reduced rates compared to women who do not. But what does eating well mean? One aspect of a healthy diet is antioxidants.

This part gets a bit science-y, but stay with me—these little molecules can help reduce our risk!

As the body metabolizes the oxygen we breathe, a side effect is the creation of unstable molecules called free radicals, which cause damage to DNA and other cells. This process is called oxidation; luckily, the body can cope with some free radicals and even needs a limited amount. However, an overload of free radicals over time causes damage that may become irreversible and lead to many diseases including some types of cancer.

Free radicals can also form in our body from environmental causes such as pollution, radiation, smoking, and alcohol. In today’s environment, you can imagine that we are exposed to these things every day!

This is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants attach to and remove free radicals from the body; this can reduce the damage caused by oxidation in the cells. A diet high in antioxidants can even prevent the damage from happening in the first place; therefore, fitting them into your diet can reduce the risk of oxidation to your cells and also of cancer occurring, as well as many other diseases.

Antioxidants are most abundant in fruits and vegetables, especially berries and others with bright pigments like greens and sweet potatoes.

Some common antioxidants, and the foods they are found in include:

  • Allium sulphur – leeks, onions, and garlic
  • Beta-carotene – pumpkin, mangoes, apricots, carrots (the beta-carotene makes them orange!)
  • Lignans – sesame seeds, bran, whole grains
  • Lutein – green, leafy vegetables like spinach, and corn
  • Lycopene – tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon
  • Vitamin A – liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, and egg yolks
  • Vitamin C – oranges, blackcurrants, kiwifruit, mangoes, broccoli, capsicum, and strawberries
  • Vitamin E – avocados, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils
  • Zinc – seafood, lean meat, milk, and nuts

How can I get antioxidants?

Increase your intake of these fruits and vegetables! Fresh is best, but frozen vegetables are the next best thing and are often more affordable than fresh varieties, especially if the fruit or vegetable is not in season. Because fresh produce usually tastes the best eaten simply raw or steamed, use frozen vegetables in soups, curries, stir fries, or pasta dishes. Frozen fruits are great for making smoothies or desserts like a berry crumble.

If you decide to buy canned fruits and vegetables, look at the ingredient label to find out what liquid it has been canned in. For fruits, choose the ones that are canned in 100 percent fruit juice instead of syrup, which adds unnecessary sugar. For vegetables, avoid those canned in salt water. Look for the cans labeled “no salt added.”

By adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, increasing your antioxidants intake is especially beneficial for those women who have an increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

If you are considering taking supplements, like vitamins, make sure to get approval from your doctor first. You can also request to speak to a dietitian if you are concerned with your diet.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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