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Superfoods and Antioxidant Foods

How they measure up and which ones to make sure you eat.

There is a lot of talk right now about superfoods. Superfoods are sometimes used to describe a food with high phytonutrient content or a food that has high concentrations of essential nutrients. Superfoods are sometimes labeled such if they are nutritionally dense. One issue right now with the term superfood is that it is not clearly defined and easily measured.

At this point in time, there is no single measurement of how super a superfood really is. Whole Foods Market has adopted Dr. Furhman’s scoring system using the ANDI (aggregate nutrient density index) score. Another way to measure food values is its antioxidant capacity, measured in ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) units. The higher the score, the greater the antioxidant capacity. Unfortunately this is an over simplification since a food has many phytonutrients that have a huge array of health benefits beyond its antioxidant capacity. For example, beets contain betaine, which is healthy for the liver. Apples, grape skins and many other foods contain proanthocyanidins, which help to stabilize capillaries and reduce heart disease. Green tea contains epigallacatechin gallate (EGCG) which helps fight cancer. So you can see that the ORAC units are helpful but narrow minded.

Even so, the top 20 ORAC fruits and vegetables (for 100 grams) are:

Acai fruit, pulp/skin, powder\t \t102,700 Rosehip\t \t \t 96,150 Elderberries,raw ½ cup \t \t 14,697 Raisins, golden seedless\t \t 10,450 Blueberries, wild, raw\t\t\t 9,621 Artichokes, boiled\t\t \t9,416 Cranberries, raw\t\t \t9,090 Prunes\t\t\t\t\t 8,059 Plums, raw\t\t\t \t6,100 Blackberries, raw\t\t \t5,905 Raspberries, raw\t\t\t 5,065 Pomegranates, raw\t\t \t4,479 Strawberries, raw\t\t\t 4,302 Apples, red delicious, raw with skin \t4,275 Cherries, sweet, raw\t\t\t 3,747 Figs, raw\t\t\t\t 3,383 Goji berry, raw\t\t\t 3,290 Cabbage, red, boiled\t\t\t 3,145 Broccoli raab, raw\t\t\t 3,083

*Note that Acai juice blends\tORAC score is 1767 (compare to the actual whole fruit)

The top ORAC items listed are not exactly foods, but rather spices (for 100grams) and include:

Sumac, bran, raw\t\t\t\t312,400 Spices, cloves, ground\t\t 290,283 Oregano, dried\t\t\t\t\t175,295 Rosemary, dried\t\t\t\t165,280 Thyme, dried\t\t\t\t\t157,380 Cinnamon, ground\t\t\t\t131,420 Turmeric, ground\t\t\t\t127,068 Vanilla beans, dried\t\t\t\t122,400 Sage, ground\t\t\t\t\t119,929 Szechuan pepper, dried\t\t\t118,400 Parsley, dried\t\t\t\t\t73,670 Basil, dried\t\t\t\t \t61,063 Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened\t55,653

One caution about some items listed as superfoods is that they contain medicinal properties and are used as medicine in cultures around the world. For example, maca, reishi mushroom, and asparagus root have medicinal properties and are not appropriate as foods for everybody. These would be best used with guidance from a trained professional and are probably better thought of as herbal medicine. Another note is that just because a food is marketed as a superfood from an exotic locale, it doesn’t necessarily make it more beneficial than a locally grown nutritionally dense food. Raisins and wild blueberries have high ORAC values comparable to the exotic noni and mangosteen fruits. (I enjoy these exotic fruits, don’t get me wrong, it is just that you don’t need to travel the globe and use jet fuel to get healthy).

So while the term superfood is not clearly measurable right now, foods that are high in antioxidants and that are nutritionally dense would be great to add into your diet on a regular basis. In general, these would include berries, nuts and seeds, dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli), avocado, dark colored fruits and vegetables (beets, cherries, melons, red cabbage, etc), omega 3 fish (salmon, sardines), and certain gluten free grains (quinoa, amaranth).