Eating more fruits and vegetables is a great way to get more antioxidants. (Photo by Marc Smith)

Pick up any health-related publication these days and you will no doubt encounter an article about antioxidants. This widely misunderstood nutrient is said to be the key to boosting the immune system. Most importantly, antioxidants are a significant factor in the prevention of certain types of cancers including breast cancer. But exactly what are antioxidants and what role do they play in disease prevention?

Before exploring how antioxidants help fight disease, we must first understand the major players in the metabolic process. Our bodies, as in all living things, are made up of atoms and molecules. A molecule is made up of two or more atoms. Antioxidants are nutrients that essentially neutralize the “bad” molecules called free radicals. These free radicals are unstable particles capable of reacting with other molecules to cause a chain reaction of damage. It is this process that contributes to cell dysfunction which can lead to infection, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Antioxidants function to actually defend the body against cellular damage by terminating the chain reaction before damage to critical molecules occurs. Antioxidants also inhibit the cancer-causing effects of carcinogens.

The three main antioxidants are beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamins C and E. Many fruits and vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, spinach, and kale are rich in beta carotene while vitamin C is found in such foods as apples, oranges, pineapples, carrots, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, and broccoli. Foods containing vitamin E, one of the more powerful antioxidants, include green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. It then goes without saying that increasing your diet in these anti-cancer foods and  fruits and vegetables in general can boost the amount of these cell-saving antioxidants.

Antioxidants play a significant role in the metabolic process to prevent disease like cancer and heart disease. But how can we increase our intake of these valuable nutrients?

Check out The Maurer Foundation switch list and switch out some of your food choices with healthier vegetable-based options. Try going vegetarian for one dinner meal a week. Explore our breast healthy recipes.

How have you increased antioxidants in your diet? We’d love to hear your tips!