Antioxidants are like the Mother Theresa of nutrition. They are a peaceful, calming molecule that appear to seek out the good in things and offer a helping hand where times get hard. Much like a tearaway, delinquent child might need sobering words and guidance to calm them down and take them off their path of destruction, similarly a volatile molecule known as a ‘free radical’ may be on a similar destructive path in your body due to an unpaired electron in the outer ring of its atom (electrons prefer to be in pairs)…and this is where antioxidants come in.
An antioxidant plays the role of Mother Theresa by giving the volatile molecule an extra electron so that it can feel happy again. A happy molecule is far less destructive to your body compared to an unpaired one aka a free radical.
So the message here is that antioxidants appear to be good for our bodies because they reduce the damage to our cells (such as those in arteries and organs), so it makes sense that we consume a balanced diet that is rich in these wonderful molecules. The more Mother Theresa’s the better right?
Why berries are leading the way…
Some of the densest sources of antioxidants include fruits and vegetables, particularly berries due to their thin skins. Just like humans, thin skinned fruits have to protect themselves from damaging UV rays from the sun, but applying a physical barrier to fruits won’t work because they literally depend on sunlight to photosynthesise i.e. produce energy and grow. So rather than having thick skins to act as barriers, berries pack themselves full of protective antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, E, and other fruits, vegetables and nuts deliver alternative antioxidants such as lycopene, vitamin A, selenium and lutein.
A leader in the antioxidant department
Berries are one of the best ways to get your antioxidants in, partly because they are dense in certain vitamins, but also because of the volume we consume per serving. Certain herbs are gram for gram higher in antioxidants, but we would need to eat a ton of them to match the total derived from berries. The researchers from the University of Agriculture in Krakow narrowed the top antioxidant foods down to red raspberries, blackberries and black raspberries, all of which are known to contain high numbers of anthocyanins and phenolics i.e. compounds that give red fruits, juices and wines their characteristic deep red colour. These compounds are understood to support health by reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, supporting prostate health and joint integrity.
Antioxidants, anthocyanins and phenolics were all considered when deciding on the best fruit for health, and there was a clear winner in the antioxidant department… the relatively unheard of Black Raspberry! Furthermore, the Black Raspberry came out on top for anthocyanins and phenolics too. A significant revelation considering many people won’t have seen, never mind eaten the Black variety of the Raspberry.
The Red Raspberry and Blackberry are by far the most common form of berry consumed in the UK, whereas central Europe and North America consume these little Black Raspberries far more often than we do in the UK. The Red Raspberry and Blackberry are more readily cultivated here due to their plumper body and sweeter taste. Plus the antioxidant packed Black Raspberry has a distinct smell which is far less appealing when compared to its red counterpart.
Perhaps one of the most shocking findings was that the Black Raspberry contained more than 1000% more anthocyanins than both the Red Raspberry and the Blackberry. That’s a hefty difference right there!
The researchers agree that the number of antioxidants present in this humble little berry may well make this the top antioxidant food you can buy. So if you want to try something different, go to a good greengrocer and see if they can get you some Black Raspberries in.
Kostecka- Gugala, A., Ledwozyw- Smolen, I., Augustnowicz, J. et al. (2016). Antioxidant properties of fruits of raspberry and blackberry grown in central Europe. Open Chemistry. Volume 13, Issue 1: 10.1515/chem-2015-0143