Total Antioxidant Capacity Of Fruits And Vegetables
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | December 14, 2004

Your mother probably told you to eat your vegetables so you’d grow up big and strong. Most kids don’t buy it, and odds are you didn’t either.

Now that you’re adults, Better Life tells you to eat your fruits and vegetables because they’re good for you. Fruits and vegetables are full of great substances such as vitamins, minerals, water, and phytonutrients; most of them act as antioxidants. You may be like most children--you aren’t buying it. But recent research shows that maybe you should listen to your mother and Better Life.

The U.S. government and several private companies funded a project to test the antioxidant capacity of common foods--over 100 different foods (1). The study was recently published and this newsletter is going to summarize the results for fruits and vegetables (We’ll cover the rest of the foods in an upcoming Newsletter.) The reason for the research was to analyze foods using the same technology to get consistent results across a large variety of foods.

The researchers did an excellent job in obtaining the produce. They used multiple grocery stores throughout cities in the U.S. and purchased the produce for analysis at different times of two growing seasons. Foods were analyzed both raw and, when appropriate, cooked. Both the hydrophilic and lipophilic antioxidant capacity were analyzed--hydrophilic means water soluble and lipophilic means fat soluble. Combining the two gives the Total Antioxidant Capacity (TAC) of the food.

What does knowing the TAC mean? Think of it this way: it’s the potential for that food to provide antioxidant activity. Will you get all of that antioxidant activity in your body? That can’t be answered with this type of study, but what it does mean is that the potential is there.

The top vegetables and fruits are presented in two tables along with the TAC for each; the results are displayed as TAC activity per gram of food.

Any surprises? In the vegetable category, beans come out on top with artichokes and cabbage close behind. (It’s important to note that the beans were analyzed dry and uncooked. Cooking may change the TAC activity.) Note that the most commonly eaten vegetables didn’t make the Top 10--no potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, corn, or peas. If those are the only vegetables you ever eat, the antioxidant express is leaving the station without you.

From the fruit category, the old adage about “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is probably true, but cranberries and plums rule the roost. You should still eat your oranges and bananas, but add a few other Top 10 fruits to your diet.

The message in all this is that vegetables and fruit are crammed full of substances that are good for you. Take the good advice from your momma and Better Life: eat your vegetables and fruit--and the more variety the better. Your body will be a whole lot healthier if you do, and that will keep you on the road to a better life.

Vegetable
Total Antioxidant
Capacity per gram
Small Red Beans, Red Kidney Beans
144-149
Pinto Beans
123
Black Beans
80
Artichoke
94
Asparagus: raw/cooked
30/16
Spinach
26
Eggplant
25
Beets
28
Broccoli: raw/cooked
16/13
Red Cabbage: raw/cooked
22/31
Fruit
Total Antioxidant
Capacity per gram
Cranberries, whole
94
Prunes
86
Black Plums
73
Blueberries, cultivated
62
Blackberries
53
Raspberries
49
Red Delicious Apples
43
Dates (Deglet Noor)
39
Granny Smith Apples
39
Strawberries
36
Sweet Cherries
34

References:
  1. Wu, X., et al. Lipophilic and Hydrophilic Antioxidant Capacities of Common Foods in the United States J. Agric. Food Chem.; 2004; 52(12):4026 – 4037.
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