Berries, Beans Top 'Best Antioxidants List'
A variety of veggies, fruits and nuts
battled it out this month for the top spot on a new list of the
20 most antioxidant-rich foods, ranked by nutrition scientists at
In the end, small red beans won the
day, narrowly beating out wild blueberries as the food with the
highest concentration of disease-fighting compounds per serving.
Antioxidants fight damage to cells
from rogue molecules called "free radicals." Experts believe this
assault on cells may fuel killer diseases such as heart disease
and cancer, and even aging itself.
The new Top 20 list, published in
the June issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,
"is a relative ranking of the capacity of foods to interfere with
or prevent oxidative processes and to scavenge free radicals," explained
list co-creator Ronald L. Prior, a USDA nutritionist and research
chemist based in Little Rock, Ark.
Prior and his colleagues used the
most advanced technologies available to tabulate antioxidant levels
in more than 100 different types of fruits, vegetables, berries,
nuts and spices.
Their Top 20:
- Small red beans (dried).
- Wild blueberries.
- Red Kidney beans.
- Pinto beans.
- Blueberries (cultivated).
- Artichokes (cooked).
- Red Delicious apples.
- Granny Smith apples.
- Sweet cherries.
- Black plums.
- Russet potatoes (cooked).
- Black beans (dried).
- Gala apples.
There's "still a lot we haven't
learned" about why some foods are richer in antioxidants than
others, Prior said. Even though the small red bean came out on
top, "we don't have a lot of information on beans," he added.
Berries are better understood.
"The components that contribute a lot of the antioxidant activity
are what are called anthocyanins, the compounds that give many
berries their dark blue color," he said.
In fact, color may be key to spotting
foods that fight free radicals, said Roberta Anding, an American
Dietetic Association spokeswoman and a nutritionist at Texas Children's
Hospital in Houston.
"If you're looking for the best
places to get antioxidants, I will usually tell folks to look
at the colors of the rainbow," she added.
For example, "you'll find lutein
with some of the yellow pigments found in corn; orange can be
the pigments from the carotenoid family that are found in cantaloupe,
butternut squash and mango; red could come from things like lycopene,
found in tomatoes and watermelon. And then the darker colors --
the purples, blues, in berries," she said.
But Prior cautioned that just because
a food has proven to be antioxidant-rich in the USDA's lab, that
doesn't mean all those nutrients will be successfully absorbed
by the human digestive tract.
"As we learn more and more, we're
finding that, depending on the chemical makeup of antioxidants
in different foods, some of them aren't apparently absorbed as
well, or else they are metabolized in a form where they are no
longer antioxidants," he said.
Whether a food is eaten fresh,
frozen, processed or cooked can also affect its antioxidant potency
-- for good or ill, he said. Blueberries are best when eaten fresh
rather than cooked in a pie, for example. On the other hand, research
has shown that gentle cooking raises the antioxidant power of
tomatoes, he noted.
Although experts are working hard
on the project, ongoing efforts to come up with daily dietary
guidelines for antioxidant consumption will be "a long process,"
"How antioxidants behave, how they
act within the body, the dose-response -- we just don't know enough
about it," he said.
For her part, Anding said people
shouldn't get too hung up on gorging on one particular food, but
"cast your net widely," eating generous daily servings of a variety
of fruits, vegetables and other wholesome foods.
Looking over the USDA's list, Anding
suggested creating what she called an antioxidant "power salad."
First, she said, "put together
a salad with a variety of mixed greens. Then I'd throw in some
dried cranberries or blueberries from the health food store, toss
in a few nuts, with a low-fat salad. Again -- choosing from the
colors of the rainbow."
Check out the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention for its Color
Your Way to 5 A Day antioxidant-rich diet plan.
Reference Source 101