Antioxidants are the body's best friend

By Gill South

To mark the start of "Movember", promoting men's health awareness, Gill South looks at the importance of good nutrition.

Barbecues don't always have to be about red meat - throw in some vegetable kebabs with seafood or chicken and finish up with refreshing watermelon. Photo / Thinkstock
Barbecues don't always have to be about red meat - throw in some vegetable kebabs with seafood or chicken and finish up with refreshing watermelon. Photo / Thinkstock

Eating a healthy diet and including certain types of foods may decrease your chances of developing cancer, and for men, prostate cancer in particular, says Claire Turnbull, Healthy Food Guide nutritionist.

The bald facts about prostate cancer is that there are three unchangeable factors: age, family history and race. But watching what you eat is one thing you can control.

For the prevention of most types of cancers, antioxidants play an important role. Antioxidants are chemicals that occur naturally in foods. They help fight the potentially harmful effects of unstable substances known as free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals that are formed during the body's metabolic processes and through general wear and tear on body cells. Infections, UV light (from both the sun and artificial tanning machines), cigarette smoke, pollution and even exercise, can all generate free radicals. By fighting them, antioxidants keeps body cells healthy and can prevent them from being cancerous, says Turnbull.

For antioxidants, think fruit and vegetables - they are packed full of them. Some of the best examples are prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, kale, cranberries, strawberries, raw spinach and broccoli.

There are lots of different antioxidants - beta-carotene from carrot and spinach; lutein from kale and spinach; vitamin A from liver, sweet potatoes, milk, egg yolks; and of course vitamins C and E.

A lot of research has been done on the benefits of lycopene - a potent antioxidant found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots, pink grapefruit and blood oranges. "Tomatoes are a fantastic source of the lycopene - an antioxidant which is more available when tomatoes have been cooked. Some great ways to use more cooked tomatoes include using more canned tomatoes and tomato paste in cooking. Tomato ketchup is also packed with lycopene. Lycopene is better absorbed when the tomatoes are eaten with a little fat - but be sure it's healthy fat," says Turnbull.

Another way to help reduce the risk of prostate cancer is to watch the amount of red meat you eat. "Kiwi men do have a love affair with red meat and it's part of New Zealand culture to get round the barbecue," says the nutritionist. "My advice is to mix things up when cooking - don't just rely on meat. Cook with chicken, fish and seafood and when you have red meat, watch the portions."

Blackening the meat is not a good idea, she adds. The blackened bits can be carcinogenic, so don't allow your meat to be charred. Also remember to trim the fat, she says, and go slow on the processed and cured meats such as bacon and salami.

Alcohol intake is another big one for the Kiwi male, says Turnbull. "It's about being moderate - some alcohol free days every week are a great idea for most of us. When you go to a barbecue, rather than taking just beers, bring some soda or fruit juice so you are alternating your drinks."

Cutting back will help to maintain a healthy weight. Supplement that with at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days.

Moderate intensity activities include walking, cycling, housework and gardening - any activity which moderately increases your breathing and heart rate.

* For more information about healthy living, check out healthyfood.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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