- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

There are some new power foods to put on the menu: little red beans, artichokes, russet potatoes, pecans and prunes, among others.

All are packed with disease-fighting antioxidant compounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s largest and most comprehensive study to date of antioxidants — those mysterious chemicals found in common foods that ward off cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and the effects of aging.

Using cutting-edge technology, a six-person USDA research team tested more than 100 fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, condiments, cereals and other foods from 12 cities around the nation, and during two seasons. The study was released last week.

The results should please burrito lovers.

The food with the heaviest concentration of antioxidants turned out to be the “small red bean,” according to the study, followed by “low bush” — or wild — blueberries, red kidney beans and pinto beans.

They soundly beat the competition, which included ballyhooed health foods such as carrots, broccoli and oat bran. A half-cup serving of those little red beans, in fact, contains almost 20 times the oxidants as a half-cup serving of broccoli, according to the researchers.

But they are not taking sides here.

“The bottom line is the same: Eat more fruits and veggies,” said Ronald Prior, an Arkansas-based USDA chemist and nutritionist who directed the study.

Mr. Prior and his team hope the research, which was published in the current Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, will help establish government nutritional guidelines for antioxidants. Currently, there are none.

The study also revealed that some varieties among the same foods are more beneficial than others.

Among apples, for example, a red delicious apple — with the peel left on — contains the most antioxidants, followed by the Granny Smith, gala, Fuji and golden delicious. Red-leaf lettuce was the most antioxidant-heavy among lettuces, while russet potatoes triumphed over plain red and white potatoes.

Red cabbage contains four times as many antioxidants as the paler variety, while artichokes weighed in with one of the heaviest concentrations of antioxidants in the bunch.

Nuts were not overlooked. The antioxidant powerhouse in this group was pecans, followed by walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds.

The study also analyzed 16 spices for antioxidant content, and found that cloves packed the most punch, followed by cinnamon, oregano, turmeric and dried parsley.

Prunes — or “dried plums” as they’re called in the industry — were a big winner as well, ranking 10th on the USDA’s top-20 list of antioxidant foods. It’s no wonder the California Dried Plum Board — a Sacramento-based group — was among the organizations funding the First International Congress on Antioxidant Methods, which ended Friday in Orlando, Fla.

In the past 20 years, research has established that antioxidant compounds help counter the ill effects of “free radicals,” or unstable molecules that cause the destruction of cells within the human body.

Researchers attending the Florida symposium shared information on the benefits of antioxidants. They also outlined new testing methods to verify popular “antioxidant claims” made by vitamin, food and cosmetic manufacturers that could help establish new international regulations, according to the American Chemical Society, which organized the event.

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