Four Best Fruits: Healthiest, Nutritious, High in Antioxidants and Fiber, Low in Calories

The four fruits covered here–Kiwi, Cranberries, Blueberries and Strawberries–are not only healthy and nutritious, but they’re high in antioxidants and fiber, yet low in calories. I haven’t listed them in any order according to the power they pack, but merely put Kiwifruit and Cranberries first because, despite their benefits, they are so readily overlooked. Also, each fruit has attributes the others may not contain. Important Note: Read about the benefits of Prunes at the very end.


What are oxidants, antioxidants, free radicals and fiber?:
As we age, our cells are continuously being damaged by the normal effects of oxidation in our tissues (a physiological process similar to iron rusting). Environmental factors such as pollution, sunlight, smoking and alcohol also lend to this oxidation, which in turn produces harmful molecules known as free radicals. These can damage our cells and lead to inflammation and cancer.

Antioxidants are nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and enzymes (proteins in our body that assist in chemical reactions), which counteract the process of oxidation by neutralizing the free radicals.

Antioxidant nutrients include: Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, the primary water-soluble antioxidant in the body. It neutralizes free radicals, helps us absorb iron more efficiently, and is necessary for the functioning of our immune systems. It is also associated with a reduced risk of death from stroke. Beta-carotene, another water-soluble vitamin, is excellent at scavenging free radicals.

Minerals and trace elements include: Selenium, a trace element. We need to consume this mineral in only very small quantities, but without it we could not survive. It forms the active site of several antioxidant enzymes. Similar to selenium, the minerals manganese and zinc are trace elements that form an essential part of various antioxidant enzymes.

Dietary fiber: Research has shown that diets with plenty of fiber can reduce high cholesterol levels, which may reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Fiber is also good for binding and removing toxins from the colon. Insoluble fiber (in whole grain breads and cereals) draws water into the intestines and helps maintain regularity, while soluble fiber (in oats, beans, fruits and vegetables) binds up bile acids and disposes of them. (See below, under Kiwi.)

Folic Acid: (Important: See further down, under Strawberries)

KIWI:

Calories in Kiwi Fruit:
1 large fruit = 55 calories

Among its attributes, kiwifruit (also known as the Chinese gooseberry) contains two of the most important fat-soluble antioxidants-Vitamins E, and A. Vitamin A is provided in the form of beta-carotine. This combination of fat- and water-soluble antioxidants gives kiwi excessive free radical protection. Kiwi is also an excellent source of Vitamin C, containing more than an equivalent amount in oranges (see “asthma protection” below). It is very rich in fiber, good for the immune system, blood pressure and the heart, and contains actinidin, an enzyme which assists digestion. Furthermore, kiwi is a good source of potassium, magnesium, copper and phosphorous.

Improving heart health and blood flow: Eating two to three kiwifruit a day can significantly work to thin your blood, reduce blood clots, and reduce the amount of fats (triglycerides) in your blood that cause blockage, without negatively affecting cholesterol levels. As such, kiwi has effects similar to taking aspirin daily to protect your cardiovascular health.

Fiber-Reduction of high cholesterol & blood sugar levels: Fiber is important for the health of the digestive system and for lowering cholesterol. It is also good for binding and removing toxins from the colon, and helps control blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Cancer protection: Because it is rich in phytonutrients, eating kiwi daily can provide substantial protection from free-radical damage to human DNA.

Protection against asthma: Vitamin C-rich fruits such as kiwi “may confer a significant protective effect against respiratory symptoms associated with asthma, such as wheezing.” According to the California Kiwifruit Commission, a study (published in the April 2004 issue of Thorax) “followed 18,737 children aged 6-7 years living in Central and Northern Italy. Those eating the most citrus and kiwi (5-7 servings per week) had 44% less incidence of wheezing compared with children eating the least (less than once per week). Shortness of breath was reduced by 32%, severe wheeze by 41%, nighttime cough by 25% and runny nose by 28%. Those who had asthma when the study began seemed to benefit the most, and productive effects were evident even among children who ate fruit only once or twice a week.” For more information on kiwi, go to http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=41

CRANBERRIES:
Calories in Cranberries:
1 cup berries = 46 calories

Besides containing significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases, cranberries boost the immune system and protect against infections. They also contain significant amounts of flavonoids, which are some of the most powerful and effective antioxidant compounds available to humans. Since our bodies are unable to produce flavonoids, we must derive them from the food we eat and from supplements.

Protection against urinary tract (and other) infections: Cranberry juice is probably best recognized for staving off the formation of kidney stones and stopping urinary tract infections. One glass a day seems to keep most sufferers free from infections. (A kidney stone is a hard mass that forms from crystals in the urine. In most people, natural chemicals in the urine stop stones from forming. A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria (germs) get into the urinary tract and multiply.)

Several of my friends have been told by their doctors to drink cranberry juice daily until their kidney stones are passed. In another case, a friend started developing kidney stones off and on during her teens. She began drinking cranberry juice regularly, and since then hasn’t had any reoccurrences. Also, a surprising number of friends have had UTI infections. Again, drinking cranberry juice helped kill off the infections. Important Note: You should always consult a physician if you think you have kidney stones, and particularly if you suspect you have a urinary tract infection, because these conditions could become serious without proper care.

Gum Disease & Stomach Ulcers: The Cranberry Institute explains that, “Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can prevent the adhesion of bacteria such as E. coli, which is associated with urinary tract infections, to the urinary tract wall. The anti-adhesion properties of cranberries may also inhibit the bacteria associated with gum disease and stomach ulcers.”

Prevention of Peptic Ulcers: The Institute also notes that “peptic ulcers are increasingly being attributed to infection by Helicobacter pylori bacteria, as opposed to stress and/or stomach acidity. A high-molecular-weight nondialysable constituent of cranberry juice has been shown to inhibit the adhesion of H. pylori to human gastric mucus in vitro. These preliminary results suggest that cranberries may be beneficial in the prevention of peptic ulcers through the inhibition of H. pylori adhesion to gastric mucus and stomach epithelium.” See http://www.cranberryinstitute.org/healthresearch.htm

For further details on how to prevent Urinary Tract Infections and other useful information, go to the National Kidney Foundation’s website, http://www.kidney.org/atoz/atozItem.cfm?id=41.

BLUEBERRIES:

Calories in Blueberries:
1 pint = 225 calories

Even frozen blueberries have so many antioxidants, just half a cup can double the antioxidant power of our diets, which experts suspect will slow down our aging clocks. Besides bursting with antioxidants (especially in their skin), they contain vitamins A and C and B1, beta-carotene, potassium, zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium, and are high in fiber and low in calories. They also contain anthocyanosides, an anti-bacterial pigment which has a beneficial effect on blood vessels and the treatment of varicose veins.

Blueberries are useful in the treatment of cystitis and, like cranberries, help protect against urinary infections. They’re also associated with protection against cancer, age-related health conditions and brain damage from strokes, and may also reduce the build-up of “bad” cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease and stroke.

Blood pressure, varicose veins and strokes: Elevated blood pressure can damage delicate blood vessels in the brain and lead to strokes. Various chemicals in blueberries affect the contractile machinery of arteries, and therefore have a good affect on blood pressure.

Studies on rats show that a blueberry-rich diet improves memory and motor skills and reverses age-related declines in balance and coordination. Blueberries even reversed memory loss in one animal study.

Billberry, the European Blueberry, is known to prevent and even reverse macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness. (It can easily be found as an herbal extract in softgel capsule form.) During World War II, British Fighter pilots reported increased night vision when they had Bilberry jam prior to night bombing raids. However, since recent studies were unable to prove this statement, the overall therapeutic use of bilberry is still clinically unproven.

STRAWBERRIES:

Calories in Strawberries:
1 cup = 45 calories

Strawberries came in second to blueberries in the USDA’s analysis of antioxidant capacity of 40 fruits and vegetables. They contain more vitamin C than any other berry, and are high in folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber and manganese.

Antioxidants and fiber: Among strawberries’ antioxidants are anthocynanins and ellagic acid, a phytochemical that has been shown to fight carcinogens. Antioxidant compounds found in strawberries may also prevent the oxidation of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and thereby help fight the development of heart disease.

Good for fighting anemia and fatigue: Because strawberries are so high in vitamin C, you can eat as few as 10 to 15 a day to meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA). They also contain modest amounts of iron. This combination is particularly useful in treating anemia and fatigue.

Beneficial in eliminating cholesterol: Strawberries contain pectin, a soluble fiber that helps eliminate cholesterol as well as environmental toxins.

FOLIC ACID: Although this vitamin is known to help prevent birth defects, according to an article in the March 19, ’06 “Parade” section, by Dr. Mark Hyman, folic acid deficiency isn’t just a problem for pregnant women! In fact, he says, “The gene that increases the need for folate (or folic acid) affects up to half of Americans. Inadequate levels can lead to dementia, many cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis, birth defects, autism and depression.

According to Dr. Hyman, “You may have folate deficiency if you have a family history of heart disease, dementia, breast, colon or cervical cancer, spinal bifida, Down Syndrome or depression.” If so, he advises that you discuss with your doctors “whether to take a blood test that measures homocysteine levels, which can identify folate deficiency. (When folate is low, levels of homocysteine rise.)

“About 800 micrograms a day of folic acid is sufficient for most people,” he adds. “Vitamins B6 and B12 also are recommended to keep homocysteine at an ideal balance.”

PRUNES:

Calories in Prunes:
1 prune = 20 calories

1 cup prune juice = 180 calories

Compared with other fruits, prunes (which are specially-grown dried plums) are particularly high in protein, potassium, Vitamin E, calcium and iron, besides modest amounts of Vitamins A, B3 and B6. While they all contain a small amount of zinc and niacin, some even have a tad of beta carotene.

Prunes not only are valuable for anyone suffering from high blood pressure, but are ideal as a laxative because of their high fiber content (half of it the soluble type) and richness in sorbitol, a stool-loosening sugar. Their only drawback: Prunes are high in calories, so watch how many you eat.

For an in-depth explanation about antioxidants, go to http://health.howstuffworks.com/antioxidant1.htm

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