Why are some fruits considered power fruits? We know it is important to eat our fruits and vegetables, Mom told us so. And the “5 a Day” campaign reminds us that eating 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduces our risk of certain cancers and increases our ability to fight illness and disease.
Power fruits are higher in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect plant tissue from damage from solar radiation and other environmental stressors. And when we consume that plant tissue, they protect our tissue from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are toxins produced by normal metabolism and present in other toxins such as tobacco smoke or car exhaust. So a diet higher in antioxidants protects us from these toxins and helps us stay healthier.
The so-called power fruits are red and purple fruits such as the black raspberry, pomegranate and wild blueberry. The black raspberry is supposed to have the highest level of antioxidants. Red and purple fruits get their colors from a subset of polyphenols, a potent antioxidant. And research shows that polyphenols have cancer-protective properties and can possibly lower risks of age-related illnesses and diseases.
The power fruits: black raspberry, pomegranate and wild blueberry also have an additional polyphenol and antioxidant called ellagic acid that also has heart protective effects. In the berries, the highest concentration of this antioxidant occurs in the seeds, so black raspberry-flavors or blueberry pancakes won’t provide much cancer or disease prevention. One cup of blueberries is said to provide 13,000 antioxidants.
Other berries than the power fruits carry a pretty hefty antioxidant level as well. Strawberries, blackberries and ordinary raspberries are also excellent sources of the antioxidants that protect us from free radicals. These fruits also carry high values of vitamin A (great for the immune system) and Vitamin C (also an antioxidant, and in addition aids production of collagen in tissue).
There are other foods rich in polyphenol, the antioxidant that give color to the red and purple power fruits. These foods include red wine, green tea, dark chocolate (yum!), and olive oil. And there are certainly plenty of supplements out there that promise to provide protection from free radicals as well. But only fruits and vegetables, not supplements, will give you the nutrients in the proper combinations needed for health. When you ingest fruits and vegetables, the nutrients are easily absorbed and used by the body. Supplements usually contain large doses of only one type of antioxidant, which hasn’t proved to be that effective.
Orange fruits aren’t at the top of the antioxidant power fruit list, but they are certainly another good source of antioxidants, including Vitamin C. Some orange fruits are peaches, oranges, tangerines, or mangoes. Eating a variety of fruits is a healthy way to get all of the different types of antioxidants into you and your family.
With all the benefits that eating fruit can have, some research insists that it is fruit eaten during its season that has the highest benefit. Eating fruit that is canned, frozen, or otherwise stored to be eaten out of season does not bear the same type or amount of antioxidants and other nutrients. Pesticides , ripening agents and genetically enhanced fruits also alter the natural nutrients and reduce the benefits.
So, while some fruits have the benefit of being this year’s “power fruit”, it is really eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables in all colors that give our bodies the most nutrition and protection from those free radicals.