Perryman Nutrition Column: Antioxidants in Fruitâ??naturally Good for You and Tasty, Too

Note to Editors: The following column was written by Shirley Perryman, an Extension specialist at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences. Perryman writes a monthly nutrition column.

We’re hearing a lot about antioxidants and for good reason.

Antioxidants that we get naturally from food help us fight off oxidation, a natural process  during which a few cells can be damaged. Damaged cells turn into free radicals which can start a chain reaction that results in aging and diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

All fruits have antioxidant properties, and some have "super" antioxidant properties and are "super fruits." I’m inspired to be on the lookout for new additions in the produce section. I even stop at markets that are not on my usual route in hopes of a new find. Two new ones I’ve heard may be coming to our markets are the Brazilian cupuacu that tastes like a pina colada and the Asian mangosteen with a flavor that resembles pineapple or peach. Yum!

Some interesting new foods that promote good health and fight free radicals may be in your local grocery aisles. In addition to cupuacu and mangosteen, look for:

– Goji berries are so new they not yet easily found in stores, but keep an eye out for them to try their interesting taste – a cross between olives and cranberries. Gojis are indigenous to the lush valleys of the Himalayan Mountains. About the size of raisins with a similar chewy texture, gojis can be eaten raw, dried or in juice and as a substitute for raisins in recipes. Be aware that gojis may have a slight anti-coagulant effect and people taking drug-thinning drugs should be cautious.

– Pomegranates are promoted for their antioxidant rich juices. Pomegranate extract has shown a protective effect against certain cancers, heart disease and protection of the brain from free radicals in lab studies. Animal studies suggest 2 cups of pomegranate seeds a day can lead to less artery plaque and lower low-density lipoproteins, or LDL-the bad cholesterol,

If you’ve never broken apart a pomegranate, it’s tricky and it’s messy. If you break it apart in a bowl of water, you’ll lessen the juice splatters which otherwise want to go everywhere. Pomegranates have a short growing season, so buying pomegranate juice is usually easier, but it often has added water and sugar. Two to four ounces daily should provide antioxidant benefits but use it as a replacement for soda, for example, to avoid adding extra calories. Also use it to flavor your tea, add it to sparkling water or lemonade, pour it over yogurt or try it as a part of your salad dressing.

– Berries provide a lot of affordable antioxidants. Researchers at Tufts University tested almost 40 different fruits and vegetables and found that blueberries pack the most antioxidant power for few calories-40 calories in one-half cup and these berries in particular have been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Blueberries also may protect the brain from the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Eat a handful or top your cereal, yogurt or ice cream with blueberries, or toss them into salads as a nice surprise.

Temper the excitement of trying new super fruits with a bit of caution about their potential health benefits and possible exaggerated claims.  Some health claims are unsubstantiated.  While you may be tempted with antioxidant vitamin supplements, it may be the combination of the nutrients in the foods that have the greatest effect on health.

Expect to pay a premium price for super fruits now; when they become more readily available the prices should come down. If they are out of line with your budget, stick to the more reasonably priced and familiar fruits which still contribute to good health.

Experiment with new ways to include these new fruits and add variety to your diet. Enjoy these new flavors and textures with the added bonus of the antioxidant health benefits they provide.