We often hear that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is good for you. And we often wonder what is so good about them, as we reluctantly pad our plate with an extra leaf of lettuce to meet the minimum of five servings a day. Well, here is another reason to go for a second helping of spinach or a bowl of fresh blueberries.
Scientists have always told us that there are harmful substances that attack our red blood cells. These harmful substances, called free radicals, can come from many places such as smoking, air pollution, foods, pesticides, or even by-products of exercise. Free radicals are substances that are short one electron and they attack our cells trying to fulfill this shortage. Sometimes they destroy our cells and sometimes they alter the structure or contents of the cell. White blood cells protect us from free radicals but so do substances found in fruits and vegetables. These substances are called antioxidants.
Some of the most popular antioxidants are vitamin C and vitamin E but there are other antioxidants, which are the pigments or the colors found in fruits and vegetables. For example, the orange color in carrots comes from beta carotene, which researchers have found concentrated in the retina of the eye. Kale and collard greens contain a yellow pigment called lutein. Lutein is also found in the retina and has been studied for its preventive role in macular degeneration – an eye disease that leads to blindness. The blue in blueberries are anthocyanins; another colorful antioxidant that protects the eyes. The red in tomatoes is lycopene, which is linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men.
Scientists have found a way to measure the antioxidant activity of these colorful substances and other antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is a test tube analysis that determines the antioxidant power and fruits and vegetables rate high. Presently, prunes have the highest rating than fruits and vegetables that have been tested (see table below.)
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, high ORAC foods
Increased the antioxidant activity in human blood by 10 to 25 percent
Prevented some loss of long term memory in middle-aged rats
Helped decrease some loss of learning ability in middle-aged rats
Helped brain cells respond to chemical stimulus in rats (this function usually decreases with age
Protected the smallest blood vessels from free radical damage
Overall, antioxidants are thought to play a positive role in preventing diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and cataracts.
Eating from a rainbow of fruits and vegetables help supply the vitamins, minerals and fiber we need for good health. Including these colorful foods in our daily diets also supply us with a way to help protect us from several diseases.
By creating the habit of adding one prune a day to our diet; choosing a fresh salad for lunch, or grabbing an orange or plum on the run may make a difference in the quality of our health.
ORAC Values of Selected Fruits (1)
Red Grapes 739
ORAC Values of Selected Vegetables (1)
Brussels Sprouts 980
Alfalfa Sprouts 930
Broccoli flowers 890
Red Bell Pepper 710
1) McBride, Judy. High-ORAC foods may slow aging. http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/1997/990208.htm. Accessed September 6, 2002
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