Antioxidants in Fruits
Fruits, especially berries, are full of antioxidants essential for good health.
Berries are the crown jewels of summer, the gems that inspire pies,
parfaits, cobblers, ice cream treats, and whipped cream wonders. Best of all,
berries deliver super-healthy antioxidants that help fight disease.
In fact, one landmark study shows that just one cup of berries provides all
the disease-fighting antioxidants you need in a single day. Of course,
dietitians will tell you, "Don't stop there." A healthy diet needs a
variety of nutrients from many food sources.
Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are plentiful in
most corners of the U.S. "Berries are available almost year-round now…and
even though they may be more expensive some times of the year, they're still
much more accessible than they used to be," says Cindy Moore, MS, RD,
spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and director of nutrition
therapy at The Cleveland Clinic.
Berries and other foods figured in a major study published in Journal of
Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This research provides a large
comprehensive report of antioxidant content in fruits and vegetables. Berries
won hands down, in providing the most antioxidant bang for the buck.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are important disease-fighting compounds. Scientists believe
they help prevent and repair the stress that comes from oxidation, a natural
process that occurs during normal cell function. A small percentage of cells
becomes damaged during oxidation and turns into free radicals, which can start
a chain reaction to harming more cells and possibly disease. Unchecked free
radical activity has been linked to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease,
and Parkinson's disease.
This study assess antioxidant
levels in more than 100 foods, including fruits, vegetables, cereals, breads,
nuts, and spices.
Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries ranked highest among the fruits
studied. Apples ran a close second, and dried fruits were also leading
contenders. Peaches, mangos, and melons, while scoring lower than berries,
still contain plenty of antioxidants as well as other nutrients.
How to Get the Most Antixoidants From Fruits
However, there's a catch: Even though some fruits and vegetables have a high
antioxidant content, the body does not absorb all of it. The concept is called
bioavailability, explains researcher Ronald Prior, PhD, a chemist and
nutritionist with the USDA's Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little
Rock, Ark. He authored the landmark antioxidant study.
"Bioavailability has to do with absorption or metabolism in the
gut," Prior explains. "What's absorbed will be impacted by the
mechanical structure of different antioxidants in food -- if they're tied up
with fiber or if they have sugar molecules attached."
Some foods benefit from a bit of cooking, he says. One of his studies showed
that by mildly steaming blueberries, the antioxidant level was enhanced, making
more antioxidants available to the body. "We really don't know much about
this, especially with fruits," Prior tells WebMD.
That's why variety in your diet is important. You hedge your bets by eating
as many antioxidant-rich foods as possible, since researchers don't yet fully
understand the complexities involved with bioavailability. It's also why you
should shoot for foods that offer the highest antioxidants, such as the top
producers like berries, he says.