Ever since antioxidants came to public attention in the 1990s, their cancer-fighting powers have sprouted a flourishing industry.
A MarketResearch.com report published in 2012 shows U.S. retail sales of foods, beverages, supplements, personal care and cosmetics featuring antioxidants will total $86 billion by 2016.
Despite the intense marketing of products like frozen berries, green tea and other foods labeled “antioxidant,” the general public knows little about how antioxidants work, the extent of their benefits in preventing cancers such as mesothelioma and other diseases, and how they should consume them.
As mesothelioma patients and their caregivers turn to alternative medicine to treat the disease and manage their symptoms in less aggressive ways than chemotherapy and surgery, it’s crucial they learn to separate the truth from the myths behind antioxidants.
What Are Antioxidants and Free Radicals?
First of all, it’s accurate to say that antioxidants play the role of good guys in our bodies.
Who are the bad guys then? Free radicals are the enemies.
Antioxidants are chemicals that block the activity of free radicals — another set of chemicals that are highly reactive, can damage cells and potentially trigger the development of cancer.
The human body produces free radicals as a byproduct of normal cellular activity. However, too many free radicals can be potentially harmful because they attack healthy molecules such as DNA.
Environmental factors also can affect the levels of free radicals in our bodies. Cigarette smoke, radiation, certain pesticides and diets rich in hydrogenated fats and processed foods introduce free radicals into our bodies.
Asbestos, a toxic mineral found in nature and in certain manmade products, also causes the production of free radicals that force healthy cells to undergo cancerous mutations, leading to the development of mesothelioma.
Free radicals also can lead to other cancers, as well as cardiovascular disease and premature aging.
What Are the Best Antioxidants for You?
Supplements found in many consumers’ medicine cabinets, such as vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene and lycopene, contain antioxidants.
While these are beneficial in small doses, clinical trials have shown that large doses of vitamins, supplements and minerals labeled as antioxidants have no significant effect in reducing our risk of developing cancer or dying from the disease.
However, ongoing research continues to show diets rich in plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, lower your risk for cancer and other illnesses and conditions.
The compounds in these foods are rich in multiple antioxidants, not just one particular kind, as in the case of vitamins and other supplements.
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Combining Plant-Based Antioxidants
A combination of natural foods containing multiple antioxidants, instead of supplements, is the best bet for attain the maximum benefits.
While all plant-based foods are valuable to eat, certain foods have been found to contain particularly high levels of antioxidants and should be included in your diet on a daily basis.
Foods high in antioxidants include:
- Spices: cloves, cinnamon, turmeric and cumin
- Herbs: oregano, parsley, basil, sage and rosemary
- Fruits: açaí berries (pronounced AH-SAH-E), cranberries, elderberries, blackberries, prunes, plums and pomegranates
- Vegetables/Other Plants: garlic, ginger, artichokes, kale and aloe vera
- Beans/Legumes: cocoa powder, black beans, kidney beans and green lentil
Although açaí berries are rich in antioxidants, be careful what you consume that alleges it contains the rich black-purple fruit. Many overpriced teas, juices and other drinks claiming to contain the wonder fruit, have negligent amounts of the berry.
A better choice is to blend a fresh berry smoothie at home where you can control the ingredients, including sugar.
Try this simple berry smoothie for an antioxidant-rich boost to your day:
- ½ cup mixed frozen berries
- ½ cup low-fat plain yogurt (use Greek yogurt for an extra protein boost)
- ¼ cup low-fat or dairy-free milk
- 1 teaspoon or a 2-inch piece of fresh turmeric
- 1 teaspoon of raw honey (if you prefer a sweeter smoothie)
- Add all ingredients into a blender.
- Blend until mixture is smooth.
- Pour into a tall glass and enjoy.
Experiments with almond or cashew butter, cinnamon and flaxseed oil to add flavor to your smoothie:
- ½ tablespoon almond or cashew butter
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon flaxseed oil