Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2004 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan 5765
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
Berry Healthy: Health Benefits from Antioxidant-Rich Foods
A formerly wise old gourmet once said that anything rich, creamy and
delicious must be bad for your health. Well, get out your spoons, forks and
mats, because salivating is now permitted.
In a recent food Olympics, a variety of fruits, vegetables and nuts battled
it out for the top spot on a new list of the 20 most antioxidant-rich
foods, ranked by nutrition scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) and reported by the University of Alabama website, November 1, 2004.
Wild blueberries were narrowly beaten out by small red beans, which
captured the red-blue medal, as the food with the highest concentration of
disease-fighting compounds per serving.
Antioxidants fight damage to cells from villain molecules called "free
radicals." 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 Journal of Agricultural and Food
Chemistry, is a ranking of the capacity of foods to interfere with or
prevent oxidative processes and to scavenge free radicals," explains 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 berries,
fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices.
The Top 20 list includes:
* 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
NOTE THAT A BERRY DEVOURS SIX OF THE TOP 11 BLUE-RED MEDALS.
"Even though the small red bean came out on top, berries are better
understood," Prior says.
"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 says.
Color may be key to identifying foods that fight free radicals, says
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 says.
Anding explains, "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 says.
Prior cautioned that just because a food has proven to be antioxidant-rich
in the USDA's lab, that does not 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 says.
Whether a food is eaten fresh, frozen, processed, or cooked can also affect
its antioxidant potency, Prior says. Blueberries are best when eaten fresh
rather than cooked in a pie, for example. On the other hand, he notes that
research has shown that gentle cooking raises the antioxidant power of
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," Prior says.
In addition, new American Heart Association guidelines for prevention of
heart disease in women advise against using antioxidant supplements to
decrease heart disease risk. Instead, get antioxidants from foods.
Anding further notes that people should not focus on one particular food,
but attempt to consume daily servings of a variety of fruits, vegetables,
and other wholesome foods.
Although cherries are not actually berries we consume them in much the same
manner. In a column titled, "Eat your sunscreen," Gloria McVeigh writes in
July 2004 Prevention that "In studies on people, animals and cancer cells,
certain nutrients blocked ultraviolet sunlight-triggered changes that can
lead to cancer." She adds, "Tart cherries. . . are rich in perillyl
alcohol, recently shown to stop cancer formation in human cells under
intense UV light."
When that "gotta have something sweet" urge hits, jewel toned berries
"gentle tartness pairs deliciously with creamy low fat whipped topping or
low sugar chocolate sauce. This, another Prevention Magazine short
nutrition article, suggests Driscoll's long-stemmed strawberries.
So eat your berries daily to obtain all those very berry health benefits.
If you want you can add beans for that extra toot - but that meal is for
In sum, a bag of berries a day will help keep the medical and surgical
Editor's Note: Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D wrote this week's column
Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments
on medical-legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Discovery Institute
Senior Fellow and a past president of the Association of American Physicians
and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists.
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