Antioxidants are slowly but surely becoming all the rage… Last month, a team of USDA nutritionists published a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The title: ‘Lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities of common foods in the
United States.’ Snappy title. But perhaps a more descriptive title would be ‘Top 20 antioxidant-rich foods.’
The USDA nutritionists examined more than 100 different kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, cereals and other foods. Using an analysis method called the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), they were able to detect the lipid soluble (lipophilic) and water soluble (hydrophilic) antioxidant capacities of the food samples.
They also singled out certain foods to test the impact from two different processing methods: cooking and peeling.
Starting at the bottom
The results weren’t altogether surprising: Fruits, vegetables and beans claimed nearly all the spots in the Top 20. We’ll start with the lower ten, counting backwards:
20. Gala apples
18. Black beans (dried)
17. Russet potatoes (cooked)
16. Black plums
15. Sweet cherries
13. Granny Smith apples
12. Red delicious apples
If there’s a surprise here, it’s that strawberries – known for their high antioxidant content – just missed the top ten.
Cream of the crop
When I began reading the USDA study, I tried to guess the number one antioxidant food before looking at the list. I guessed ‘blueberries,’ and I was close, but not quite on the money. Here’s the Top 10:
7. Artichokes (cooked)
5. Blueberries (cultivated)
4. Pinto beans
3. Red kidney beans
2. Blueberries (wild)
And the number one antioxidant-rich food:
1. Small red beans (dried)
Small red beans! Who knew? The small red bean looks like a kidney bean – same colour and shape – except that it’s (you guessed it) smaller. It’s sometimes identified as a Mexican red bean, but it’s grown in Washington, Idaho, and Alberta, Canada.
To cook, or not to cook…
The USDA list is very useful, but it’s important to remember that the best way to get your antioxidants is not to eat heaping bowls of dried small red beans each day, but rather to eat a wide variety of antioxidant-rich foods.
That way you’ll also get other useful nutrients, such as ellagitannin; a substance that has been shown to help prevent the growth of cancerous cells and is found in raspberries and strawberries. And when you eat pecans you’ll add copper and potassium to your diet. Pinto and kidney beans are good sources of folate (sometimes called vitamin B-9), which may help lower homocysteine levels. And blueberries deliver a chemical called anthocyanis that has been shown to help protect brain cells.
As you might imagine, most antioxidant foods lose some of their antioxidant capacities in processing. (The most notable exception is the tomato; the antioxidant lycopene is enhanced by cooking.) Ronald L. Prior (one of the study co-authors) told HealthDayNews that ‘fresh’ is the unsurprising best choice over frozen, cooked or otherwise processed. So while blueberry pie may seem like a somewhat healthy treat, it can’t begin to compare with a bowl of blueberries, picked fresh from the meadow.
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