The most important health-word of this age is probably ‘antioxidant’. Antioxidants negate the destructive action of free radicals (another important health-word) which are the cause of much of mankind’s health problems. It has been found that one cup of wild blueberries has 13,427 antioxidants which is about 10 times the usual USDA recommendation! Cultivated blueberries have 9,019 per cup (www.medicinenet.com). This should lay to rest any doubts about why fruits are the best thing to have happened to mankind.
Nowadays, nutritionists are constantly telling us to add color to our diet. Apparently, the more colorful the food, the more chances of it being rich in antioxidants – a hip word of the times. Ever since they discovered that free radicals are actually the root cause of many troublesome diseases besides being the major causing of ageing, the antidote to free radicals - antioxidants - have become much sought after. And, yes, the deeper the color of the food in question, the more antioxidants it is likely to have. Thus, in the case of fruits, apples, apricots, bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, kiwifruits, oranges, peaches, grapefruits, etc. have become the mantra for good health. Ask any middle-aged person who happens to be in shipshape condition, and he/she will probably tell you that eating fruits daily is the secret of his/her good health, not to mention, their radiant youthfulness. So, whoever said it eons ago that ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’, was one hundred percent right.
FREE RADICALS AND ANTIOXIDANTS
Now, before we jump on to what benefits various fruits can impart, let’s see what free radicals and antioxidants are all about. Our cells are constantly bonding with each other to gain structural stability. Normally, when these bonds split, they do so without leaving a molecule with an unpaired electron. However, when weak bonds split, free radicals are formed which are unstable and react with other molecules to try and capture the needed electron to gain stability. If they succeed, then the affected molecules also lose their stability and become free radicals themselves thus starting a chain reaction. This can result in the disruption of living cells.
Antioxidants neutralize the destructive action of free radicals by donating one of their own electrons thus ending the electron-stealing reaction. And, because they are stable in either form, antioxidants themselves do not become free radicals themselves. The end result? Prevention of further cell damage. Although there are several enzyme systems within the body that counter free radicals, the principle antioxidants are Vitamin E, Vitamin C and beta-carotene.
SO, WHICH FRUITS HAVE THE MOST ANTIOXIDANTS?
Berries, Berries and More Berries
Berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries) are the top antioxidant-rich fruits. A study has shown that just one cup of berries provides all the antioxidants you need in a single day. Wild blueberries are the best in this regard - one cup contains about 13,427 antioxidants (Vitamin A & C, plus flavonoids like querticin and anthocyanidin) which is about 10 times the USDA’s recommendation! Cultivated blueberries have 9,019 per cup and are equally vitamin-rich.
Here’s how much antioxidants (Vitamins A and C and flavonoids like catechin, epicatechin, quercetin, and anthocyanidin) are packed in a cup of other berries and fruits:
- Cranberries: 8,983,
- Blackberries: 7,701,
- Raspberries: 6,058,
- Strawberries: 5,938
- Black plums: 4,873,
- Sweet cherries: 4,873,
- Red grapes: 2,016,
- Apple (Delicious sp): 5,900,
- Orange: 2,540,
- Mango: 1,653,
- Peach: 1,826,
- Tangerines: 1,361, * Pineapple: 1,229.
However, though some fruits have high antioxidant content, the body does not absorb all of it. Some foods benefit from a bit of cooking and mildly steaming blueberries enhances the antioxidant level. Dry fruits, though smaller, still have plenty of antioxidants. For instance, look how much antioxidants half a cup of these dried fruits contain:
- Prunes: 7,291
- Dates: 3,467
- Figs: 2,537
- Raisins: 2,490
Red wine, grape juice, grape seed, and grape skin extracts also have lots of antioxidants. Red wine is loaded with flavonoids like anthocyanidins and catechins. Research shows that flavonoids may help prevent blood clots; may prevent cholesterol from damaging blood vessel walls; improve the health of arteries and stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which prevents hardening of the arteries. An antioxidant called reservatrol is also found in red grapes, raspberries, and mulberries, and it may affect age-regulated genes by allowing cells to live longer and offsetting the risks of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Two glasses of red wine daily for men, and one for women, could lower heart disease. A tall glass of grape juice daily has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol significantly and improve blood flow in artery walls. Some researchers have even commented that one serving of grape juice has been shown to be equal to taking a small aspirin every day in terms of cardiovascular benefits.
BLUE, GREEN OR RED - DOESN’T MATTER, ALL COLOR IS GOOD
Healthful compounds and phytochemicals (phytonutrients) give fruits (and vegetables) their color. Here then, are fruits according to color and the health benefits inherent in them:
Blue/Purple (blueberries, plums, purple figs, grapes, raisins, blackberries, black currants): They contain phytochemicals like anthocyanins and phenolics which are said to help lower the risk of some cancers and are good for urinary tract health, memory function and healthy ageing.
Green (green apples, avocados, kiwi, limes, green grapes, honeydew, green pears): They contain lutein and indoles which help to strengthen bones and teeth, improve vision and may lower the risk of some types of cancer.
White (bananas, dates, brown pears, dates, white nectarines, white peaches): They contain the phytochemical allicin which promotes heart health, lowers risk of some cancers and helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Yellow/Orange (oranges, papayas, peaches, grapefruit, golden kiwifruit, lemons, mangoes, nectarines, yellow apples, apricots, cantaloupe, cape gooseberries, yellow figs, yellow pears, persimmons, tangerines, yellow watermelon, pineapples): They contain Vitamin C and the phytonutrients carotenoids and bioflavonoids which are beneficial for heart and vision health and a healthy immune system. They are also said to lower risk of some cancers.
Red (strawberries, cherries, red grapes, pomegranates, raspberries, cranberries, pink watermelon): They contain the phytonutrients lycopene and anthocyanins which promote heart and urinary tract health, memory function and lowers risk of some cancers besides improving memory function.
NEGATIVE CALORIE FRUITS
There are some foods that contain less energy (calories) than the energy required to digest them so that in effect, eating more of these foods results in loss of calories. These are known as ‘negative calorie foods’. Mostly, vegetables and fruits come in this category. Among fruits, apples, cranberries, grapefruits, lemons, mangos, oranges, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, etc. are said to be ‘negative calorie fruits’. Eating more of these fruits is a good way to go about losing weight. Of course, one has also to balance such food with other food to ensure that all nutrient requirements of the body are met.
Finally, we come to the subject of dry fruits, most which are prized for their substantial nutritional benefits. Raisins are useful in cases of debility and wasting diseases and also for relieving constipation and regularizing bowel movement. They are a rich source of iron and thus enrich blood and cures anemia. In ayurvedic practice, black raisins are used to re establish sexual vigor. Cashew nuts are a rich source of potassium, B vitamins, folate, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and copper and also has plenty of mono unsaturated fat, thus helping to prevent heart diseases. Dates are useful for relieving hangovers and constipation as well as for building up the heart.
Almonds are perhaps the most health enhancing among all dry fruits. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and help in blood cell and hemoglobin creation besides strengthening muscles, nerves, bones, heart and liver. Almonds are also useful for proper functioning of the brain. Almond paste is used to soften dry skin and remove black heads and pimples while almond oil prevents thinning of hair, dandruff and early graying. Almonds also help cure sexual dysfunction due to nervous breakdown and assists in preventing anemia and constipation, relieving bronchial diseases, hoarseness and cough.
In traditional Nepali culture, a mixture called ‘sutkeri masala’ is used to nourish women after birth-giving. It consists of dry fruits, gund (edible gum), batisa (mixture of 32 herbs), jwano (thyme), methi (fenugreek) and sounf (dill). Taken dissolved in milk or water, this potent mixture imparts concentrated amounts of most of the essential nutrients. Infants too are fed a customary mixture of dates, almonds, cashew nuts, pistachio and nutmegs. Perhaps this explains the well known robustness generally found in the Nepali people as a whole.
Indeed, fruits, in whatever form they are available, are nature’s bounty to mankind. Fruits are what sustained Robinson Crusoe for many years and made him into a better man. Now, if only they were more affordable!
Sources: medicinet.com, www.fruitandveggieguru.com and other sources