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Healing Kitchen

Autumn's Antioxidant Bounty
Fortunately, some of the best sources of antioxidants are at their peak during the autumn and winter months. According to laboratory tests by researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, the vegetables kale, beets, spinach and Brussels sprouts, as well as oranges were ranked among the most potent weapons against free radicals--the cell-damaging compounds believed to accelerate aging and contribute to heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. And while two other fall favorites butternut squash and sweet potatoes, weren't part of the testing, they too are antioxidant powerhouses.

The ORAC Antioxidant Score
The test called oxygen radical absorbance capacity, or ORAC, measures the total antioxidant potency of foods or supplements. It's a more precise way of determining the free radical-destroying power of a food than just focusing on individual nutrients, because ORAC takes into consideration the effect of all of the plant's compounds--including many phytochemicals that aren't traditionally considered nutrients and the impact they have when they work in concert. Very simply, a sample of a food or a chemical substance (such as vitamin E) is put in a test tube to measure how well and for how long it disarms free radicals. The test substance is then given an ORAC score that reflects its power (see chart). The researchers estimate that the average person's daily ORAC intake from diet alone is about 1,200 units. In a study of 36 older people, boosting fruit and vegetable intake to reach 3,200 ORAC units a day increased the antioxidant potential of the blood by 10 to 15%--enough to have an impact on disease prevention. The researchers think most people should strive to consume 1,000 to 2,500 ORAC units above what they currently get.

Choosing Supplements
Can you get your extra ORAC units from supplements? An analysis by the Tufts researchers suggests that it may depend on getting a high-quality product. When they tested 46 supplements touted for their antioxidant potential, including grape seed, pine bark, and berry extracts, they found that just eight of the products were powerful enough to supply 1,000 to 2,500 ORAC units. The study underlines the importance of buying your supplements from a manufacturer you trust.

Author: the WholeHealthMD Advisor
Date Published: 01/14/2000
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