One of the most effective weapons for preventing cancer and other serious diseases may be a plate of food filled halfway with fruit and vegetables.

As noted in the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which promotes the half a plate concept, brightly colored fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants. Research shows that diets rich in antioxidants can help reduce the probability of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances that may protect against free radicals, harmful molecules that can be the by-products of digestion or exposures to tobacco smoke, pesticides, radiation or other toxins. Regardless of what causes free radicals, damage results, increasing the likelihood of cancer and other serious diseases. Research also indicates that antioxidants can neutralize some of free radical damage, reducing the likelihood for disease.

Fruits and vegetables containing abundant amounts of antioxidants that may assist in preventing cancer include cranberries (quercetin and ursolic acid), tomatoes and watermelon (lycopene) and blueberries and blackberries (anthocyanins). Many of these substances are available in supplement form, but their disease-preventing capabilities are enhanced when they are combined with the array of nutrients contained in fresh food. That is why the best way to obtain antioxidants is through consumption of food rather than dietary supplements.

Instead of searching out specific fruits or vegetables to treat specific ailments, incorporate a variety of these foods in your diet. All fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you. When serving a plate, fill it halfway with assorted combinations of these high-in-antioxidant foods and enjoy better health.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]