There are plenty of health benefits in the vegetarian diet. Not only can you expect to live longer, you will have a higher chance of living without cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, among other diseases. You can enjoy higher energy levels and a better digestive system (keeping you ‘regular’). All in all, the vegetarian diet will put you on the right path to increased overall health.
Antioxidants in the Body
What, exactly, is accountable for this? There are many answers to this question, but one is the higher antioxidant intake in many vegetarian diets. Antioxidants have, in recent years, been proven to be a highly effective cancer fighter.
Everyone has molecules called ‘free radicals’ floating around their systems. These are electrically unbalanced molecules that have either too many or too few electrons. They, in turn, seek to steal from or give electrons to neighboring molecules, setting them off balance. These newly damaged molecules do the same thing to their neighbors, causing a chain reaction. When these cells become unbalanced and damage, they have a more difficult time replicating themselves. When a molecule is stressed and tries to duplicate, there is a greater chance of mutation. This is the birthing ground of cancerous cells.
Because we live in a more polluted world and ingest unnatural foods, we all have increased levels of the free radicals in our systems. Air pollution, smoking, drinking alcohol, eating foods with high fatty content all increase the free radicals in our system. This is one of the contributing factors to increasing cancer rates over the past century.
Antioxidants work to neutralize these free radicals before they have the chance to do any serious harm. Ingesting healthy amounts of antioxidants on a regular basis greatly decreases the risk of cancer in people.
Antioxidants in Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables have high levels of antioxidants – one of the reasons they’re so great for our health. Vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamin E, vitamin C, manganese, and selenium are all considered strong antioxidants. Eating 5-9 helpings of fruits and vegetables a day is plenty enough to experience some of the benefits of increased antioxidant intake. Supplements, on the other hand, should be avoided, as there are few studies showing that they are, in fact, beneficial. Getting nutrients from natural foods is generally more effective in terms of absorption rates. Rather than buy expensive, tasteless supplements, enjoy the delicious fruits and vegetables available to you on a regular basis. Carrots, broccoli, deep greens, salad, apples, oranges, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and most berries are all fantastic sources of antioxidants.
Antioxidants and Inconclusive Studies
Although there have been a few studies that have shown the benefits of antioxidants with relation to cancer, there are just as many studies showing that it has now effect or, worse, negative effects on the cancer incidence rates. A study from China in 1993 showed that high levels of beta carotene, vitamin E and selenium in the diet decreased the risk of gastric cancer – as well as all other forms of cancer – in a number of people. A year later, a study was published that showed smokers with high beta carotene intake were actually 8% more likely to die from lung cancer. There are other studies that show that these nutrients had no effect on cancer rates. Currently, there are a number of studies being performed to further our understanding of antioxidants. We’ll have to wait and see.