Meet the Superfruits

Take a look at the compelling new research on the antioxidant properties of common and exotic fruits.

| July/August 2007

  • Acai berries (from Amazon palm trees) have five times more antioxidants than blueberries. Acai juice is available at health-food stores.

Fruit just might be the ultimate food. Delicious and brimming with an array of vitamins and minerals, plus low in calories, fruit goes far beyond a glass of orange juice with breakfast. Recent studies suggest that berries, cherries, grapes, pomegranates and a plethora of exotic tropical goodies may help prevent cancer, heart disease and the age-related brain fuzzies.

But why visit the pharmacy for all this nutrition? Just pull up a chair at the breakfast table. Fifty years of scientific research have shown that the healthiest diets are loaded with fruits and vegetables. For decades, the main reason to eat fruit was thought to be vitamin C. Recently, though, a host of new tongue-twisting nutrient chemicals have dominated the discussion. Now the news is coming at us like an avalanche: More than 65 scientific studies have been published since 2004 on the antioxidants from bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) alone.

What Makes Fruit the Perfect Food?

Fruits are especially rich in health-giving antioxidants, which help prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals. The powerful antioxidant compounds in fruits include an assortment of polyphenols (principally flavonoids), which are amazingly abundant in nature—there are more than 4,000 varieties.

Much of the antioxidant clout in fruit comes from the red, purple and blue pigments that give fruit its color. These pigments go by a lot of names—anthocyanins, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins and oligomeric proanthocyanidins. Generally, the darker the fruit, the more potent its antioxidant profile. Black currants, red currants, chokecherries and elderberries are rich sources of polyphenols. Antioxidant polyphenols also have many other health-promoting traits, including reducing inflammation, fighting viruses, lowering cholesterol, preventing wrinkles and supporting immune functions and vision. Cancer research is especially promising. Fruit antioxidants from grape, bilberry and choke-cherry inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells. Strawberry, blueberry and raspberry juices all inhibit cancer mutations in cells.

And fruits are a standout in cardiovascular disease prevention. According to researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Oslo in Norway, various flavonoid-rich foods are associated with significant mortality reduction—the more flavonoids in the diet, the less heart disease. Star foods are apples, pears, red wine, grapefruit and strawberries.

These days, scientists take fruits pretty seriously. The federal government has its “5 A Day” program, and the National Cancer Institute launched a campaign called “Savor the Spectrum,” which encourages Americans to eat fruits and vegetables from each color group (orange/yellow, red, green, white and blue-purple) every day. As a bonus, consuming five servings of fruit and vegetables daily provides 6 to 8 mg of beta-carotene, a fat-soluble antioxidant.

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