Odds and ends
Every once in awhile, I like to answer random questions that come my way and today is one of those days. We will focus on fruit because there has been an explosion of interest in high antioxidant fruits over the past few years.
There is no question that raw fruit is good for you. We tend to miss the point that raw fruits and vegetables are some of the most biologically complex foods on the planet. The nutrition benefits go far beyond a few milligrams of vitamin C or folic acid. It is in the synergy of thousands of phytochemicals (bioflavonoids, etc) that provide the rich health benefits. The bright colors of the fruits are important, because the colors are the repositories of these phytochemicals. An apple, for example, contains over 10,000 nutrients, the vast majority of which have never been studied. The interaction between the 10,000 phytochemicals is similarly un-studied but who can doubt the wisdom of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?”
So you want to eat fruits that are purple, orange, red, yellow, and blue. Pomegranates (one of my favorites because they are so fun and messy to eat) are excellent food. The seeds contain polyphenols and fatty acids and anthocyanidins, all of which exert antioxidant activity. Women are encouraged to eat this fruit because pomegranates also provide estrone and other nonsteroidal estrogenic substances. Pomegranate juice may slow the progression of atherosclerosis and reduce blood pressure (about 5 percent) in people with hypertension.
Blueberries are high in fiber and vitamin C, but they also provide anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins (antioxidant). Blueberries are probably anti-cancerous and reduce normal oxidative cellular damage that occurs with aging. They may also help prevent urinary tract infections by inhibiting the ability of bacteria to adhere to the bladder wall.
Acai is one of my new favorites, but only in its raw, un-juiced form. Acai has the highest antioxidant level of any fruit on the planet. A member of the palm tree family, it is harvested in Brazil, described as the most important plant species because the fruit makes up about 42 percent of their food intake. These people are rarely ill because they believe the acai keeps them well.
It seems that every continent grows some type of high-antioxidant fruit. How wonderful of nature to so bless us! Remember I started this column by saying “raw fruit.” I am not particularly favorable to fruit juices because some processing is required to reduce oxidative damage from exposure to oxygen, heat, and light. Processing destroys most of the nutritional benefits. Additionally, fruit juice is a “naked sugar,” and could (if consumed in high enough amounts enough to get enough of the nutritional benefits) elevate blood sugar or destabilize blood sugar in sensitive people. Remember you need about 10,000 ORAC points each day for optimum health, a value that should be verified via a third party laboratory. Check the label for this information.
Having said that, however, getting more antioxidants in the diet is so important that if you refuse to eat organic, nutritious fruits, you may have to resort to drinking the juices. Or take raw chocolate which is even higher in antioxidant values.
Carol is a certified lifestyle educator. She owns the Island Nutrition Center on Sanibel. She can be reached at 472-4499.