Cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant levels on the list, and has an added bonus in that it may help you better regulate your blood-glucose levels. Although I realize that cinnamon’s not exactly a “local” product for those of us not in Indonesia, it doesn’t seem like the worst offender in terms of carbon footprint–one little stick goes a long way. See Cinnamon’s Secret Health Benefit for more on cinnamon.
People always lament that the tasty things are the worst things for our health–case in point: French fries. But how about pecans? Yum! Pecans have shown to significantly lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL. Frequent consumption of nuts is associated with a lowered risk of sudden cardiac death and other coronary heart disease, as well as a lower risk of Type II diabetes in women. A handful of pecans can brighten a meal.
A Penn State-led review of the available evidence from 66 published studies supports the view that consuming flavonoid-rich chocolate, in moderation, can be associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. Chocolate that is minimally processed and has the highest cocoa content (which means the darkest chocolate) has the highest level of flavonoids. With dark chocolate, even eating as little as 30 calories per day can have a moderate effect. (But more can make you really happy.)
Pomegranates offer very high antioxidant activity–and research shows that drinking pomegranate juice may help with lowering the risk for hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. I find eating pomegranate fruit one of life’s simple pleasures, but for a daily dose, pomegranate juice is more accessible. To read more about pomegranates and see recipes, see Prime Time for Pomegranates.
Red Delicious Apples
In addition to high anti-oxidant levels, apples have a huge array of excellent health benefits. Although I’m crazy about heirloom varieties that I can get locally, Red Delicious apples scored the highest for anti-oxidant levels on the USDA list; but I’m sure the USDA didn’t tackle a huge variety of apples for testing. I wonder how my local Esopus Spitzenberg or Hudson’s Golden Gem varieties would have scored? Along with the high antioxidant magic from apples, they are also rich in pectin, a form of soluble fiber known to help lower cholesterol.
Blueberries are the rock stars of high-antioxidant fruit and vegetable family–they have a super high ORAC level, are widely available, and easy to eat. Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil. Frozen blueberries work well plain, on cereal, in smoothies–and incorporate nicely into baked goods like Blueberry Coffee Cake.
I know they generally go by the more rustically-glamorous, marketing-friendly name of dried plums these days, but I say, call a prune a prune. Prunes are very high in anti-oxidants, and are a good source of energy in the form of simple sugars, yet they do not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar concentration, possibly because of high fiber, fructose, and sorbitol content. Additionally, the high potassium content of prunes might be beneficial for cardiovascular health. Plums are an important source of boron, which is thought to play a role in prevention of osteoporosis. Pureed prunes make a miraculous substitute for fat in baked goods.
Red or Kidney Dried Beans
An excellent source of protein, antioxidants, folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates, beans are flavorful, nutritionally dense, inexpensive and versatile. Read about heirloom varieties and cooking tips in Cool Beans.
Potatoes got a bad reputation in modern nutrition lore, most likely because of their high starch content–but potatoes are awesome. They contain no fat or cholesterol, have 3 grams of protein per medium potato, 2 grams of fiber (with skin on), which may aid in weight loss, lower blood cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease. They have 45% Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C and 18% DV of potassium. Russet potatoes are specifically high on the list, but as is the case with apples, I’m sure a limited variety of potatoes were tested by the USDA. I imagine that the deep-hued varieties have even more anti-oxidants, like the Adirondack Red or Peruvian Purple. Read about cool potato varieties and recipes.
A New York Times article in December suggests that cabbage is the most important [vegetable] in the world from the point of view of nutritional benefits and cancer-fighting ability. Cabbage possesses phytochemicals including sulforaphane, which studies suggest protects the body against cancer-causing free radicals, and indoles, which help metabolize estrogens. It’s also an excellent source of vitamins K and C, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, folate, manganese and Omega 3 fatty acids. Slaw is the obvious application for cabbage–this recipe is cumin-spiced which makes it winter-palate friendly: Moroccon Carrot and Cabbage Salad, while this French recipe for Moulin Rouge Cabbage is a great alternative to the basic braised version.
The humble artichoke also made the top-10 list. Apart from the 3,56 millimole/100g antioxidant punch, artichokes are a good source of iron. These veggies also help to reduce bowel upsets and help to let good bacteria flourish in your gut.
Cook artichokes for 20 minutes with a slice or two of lemon, a bay leaf and salt. The leaves and the heart can then be eaten.
The cranberry really is a super-food. Numerous studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory properties of this fruit can help to prevent and treat urinary tract, and possibly other, infections. One reason why cranberries are so healthy, is because of their high antioxidant content (3,13 millimoles per 100g).
As cranberries are generally too tart to eat fresh, go for the canned varieties and use these in both sweet and savory dishes.
Nuts are great health foods – they’re cholesterol-free, generally low in sodium and a great source of vitamins and minerals. But in terms of antioxidant content, walnuts seem to beat the rest of the nut family with 3,72 millimoles per serving. Toss these nuts into salads, mix them into muesli, or include them in rice pudding or apple tart.
Just make sure that you have no more than a handful of walnuts per day. If you’re overweight, cut this amount to a handful no more than three times per week.