Fruits and Vegetables A Look at Their Antioxidant Potential

A food's health-promoting benefits likely come from many antioxidants, not just a single antioxidant nutrient or food substance. With this in mind, a scientific scoring method—the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbency capacity) score-has been created to estimate the overall antioxidant potential of fruits and vegetables. The higher the ORAC score, the greater the antioxidant potential.

Fruit (raw)

ORAC Units

Vegetables (raw)

ORAC Units

Dried plums (prunes) (4)

1,939

Kale (1 cup)

1,186

Blueberries (V2 cup)

1,740

Beets (V2 cup)

571

Blackberries (V2 cup)

1,466

Red bell peppers (V2 cup)

533

Strawberries (V2 cup)

1,170

Brussels sprouts (V2 cup)

431

Raisins (V4 cup)

1,026

Corn (V2 cup)

420

Raspberries (V2 cup)

756

Spinach (1 cup)

378

Oranges (V2 cup sections)

675

Onions (V2 cup)

360

Plums (1)

626

Broccoli florets (V2 cup)

320

Red grapes (V2 cup)

591

Eggplant (V2 cup)

320

Cherries (V2 cup)

516

Alfalfa sprouts (V2 cup)

149

Sources: USDA Agricultural Research Service, Food and Nutrition Research Briefs (April 1999). Calculated to serving sizes, J. Walsh, "The Growing Allure of Antioxidants," Environmental Nutrition (January 2000).

Sources: USDA Agricultural Research Service, Food and Nutrition Research Briefs (April 1999). Calculated to serving sizes, J. Walsh, "The Growing Allure of Antioxidants," Environmental Nutrition (January 2000).

Remember: The ORAC score offers a scientific method for looking at food in a new way. No guidelines exist to suggest how many ORAC units you need. Be aware: A high ORAC value doesn't mean a food performs better as an antioxidant source; the bioavailability of these antioxidants isn't known, either.

Eating plenty of whole-grain foods, as well as nuts, containing vitamin E provides them, too.

Many foods on supermarket shelves are fortified with antioxidant vitamins: C, E, and beta carotene. While these foods may not supply enough anti-oxidant vitamins for their possible protective benefits, they're often good sources. For carotenoids and vitamin C, fruits and vegetables still are the best sources, as they contain other phytonutrients that may help prevent health problems such as some cancers and heart disease.

Antioxidants in Supplements

Even if a little is good, a lot may not be better. So far no research proves that taking beta carotene, vitamins C or E, or other antioxidant supplements prevents disease.

To date, scientists haven't pinpointed which antiox-idants offer specific benefits, how much would be enough—or how many years you'd need to take them. They don't know enough about side effects from taking supplemental antioxidants over long periods of time. Moreover, the mix of antioxidants in food, not just one or two from supplements, may offer positive and powerful antioxidant action.

Other antioxidant issues need research, too. For one, high doses from antioxidant supplements may be harmful, perhaps by working as pro-oxidants that promote, rather than neutralize, oxidation. Second, not all free radicals are harmful. Some offer protection by attacking harmful bacteria or cancer cells in the body. Very high intakes of antioxidants may destroy or hinder these protective free radicals.

Until more is known, continue to enjoy the wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, and nuts and seeds, with their many naturally occurring antioxidants. And avoid high doses from supplement sources. For more about dietary supplements, see chapter 23.

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