Artichokes and beans may not be at the top of your
list of favorite foods, but when it comes to antioxidants, these
veggies earn a coveted place. They are among a growing variety of
foods found to contain surprisingly high levels of these
disease-fighting compounds, according to a new USDA study, which
researchers say is the largest, most comprehensive analysis to date of
the antioxidant content of commonly consumed foods.
In addition to confirming the well-publicized high
antioxidant ranking of such foods as cranberries and blueberries, the
researchers found that Russet potatoes, pecans and even cinnamon are
all excellent, although lesser-known, sources of antioxidants, which
are thought to fight cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's. The study
appears in the June 9 print edition of the Journal of Agricultural
and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed publication of the American
Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
"The bottom line is the same: eat more fruits and
veggies," says Ronald L. Prior, Ph.D., a chemist and nutritionist with
the USDA's Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Ark.,
and lead author of the study. "This study confirms that those foods
are full of benefits, particularly those with higher levels of
antioxidants. Nuts and spices are also good sources."
The new study is more complete and accurate (thanks
to updated technology) than previous USDA antioxidant data and
includes more foods than the previous study, the researchers say. They
analyzed antioxidant levels in over 100 different foods, including
fruits and vegetables. In addition, the new study includes data on
spices and nuts for the first time.
Among the fruits, vegetables and nuts analyzed,
each food was measured for antioxidant concentration as well as
antioxidant capacity per serving size. Cranberries, blueberries, and
blackberries ranked highest among the fruits studied. Beans,
artichokes and Russet potatoes were tops among the vegetables. Pecans,
walnuts and hazelnuts ranked highest in the nut category.
Although spices are generally consumed in small
amounts, many are high in antioxidants. On the basis of antioxidant
concentration, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and oregano were the
highest among the spices studied.
Prior says that the data should prove useful for
consumers seeking to include more antioxidants in their diet. But he
cautions that total antioxidant capacity of the foods does not
necessarily reflect their potential health benefit, which depends on
how they are absorbed and utilized in the body. Researchers are still
trying to better understand this process, he adds.
Currently, there are no government guidelines for
consumers on how many antioxidants to consume and what kind of
antioxidants to consume in their daily diet, as is the case with
vitamins and minerals. A major barrier to such guidelines is a lack of
consensus among nutrition researchers on uniform antioxidant
measurements. Scientists will soon attempt to develop such a consensus
at the First International Congress on Antioxidant Methods, held June
16-18 at the Caribe Royale Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando,
Fla., with the ultimate goal of developing better nutritional data for
consumers. ACS is the principal sponsor of the meeting.
For now, USDA officials continue to encourage
consumers to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables for better health.