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Top 20 Antioxidant-Rich Foods

A team of USDA nutritionists published a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. titled "Lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities of common foods in the United States." The USDA nutritionists examined more than 100 different kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, cereals and other foods. Using an analysis method called the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), they were able to detect the lipid soluble (lipophilic) and water soluble (hydrophilic) antioxidant capacities of the food samples.

They also singled out certain foods to test the impact from two different processing methods: cooking and peeling.

The results weren't altogether surprising: Fruits, vegetables and beans claimed nearly all the spots in the Top 20.

20. Gala apples
19. Plums
18. Black beans (dried)
17. Russet potatoes (cooked)
16. Black plums
15. Sweet cherries
14. Pecans
13. Granny Smith apples
12. Red delicious apples
11. Strawberries

If there's a surprise here, it's that strawberries - known for their high antioxidant content - just missed the top ten.

10. Raspberries
9. Prunes
8. Blackberries
7. Artichokes (cooked)
6. Cranberries
5. Blueberries (cultivated)
4. Pinto beans
3. Red kidney beans
2. Blueberries (wild)

And the number one antioxidant-rich food:
1. Small red beans (dried)

Small red beans! Surprise!!!? The small red bean looks like a kidney bean - same color and shape - except that it's smaller. It's sometimes called a Mexican red bean, but it's grown only in Washington, Idaho, and Alberta, Canada.

On cooking...
The best way to get your antioxidants is not to eat heaping bowls of dried small red beans each day, but rather to eat a wide variety of antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants work better in combination with each other.

That way you'll also get other useful nutrients, such as ellagitannin; a substance that has been shown to help prevent the growth of cancerous cells and is found in raspberries and strawberries. Pecans also contain copper and potassium.

Pinto and kidney beans are good sources of folate (sometimes called vitamin B-6), which may help lower homocysteine levels. And blueberries contain anthocyanidins that has been shown to help protect brain cells.

Most antioxidant foods lose some of their antioxidant capacities in processing. (The most notable exception is the tomato; the antioxidant lycopene is actually enhanced by cooking.) Ronald L. Prior (one of the study co-authors) told HealthDayNews that "fresh" is the unsurprising best choice over frozen, cooked or otherwise processed. So while blueberry pie may seem like a somewhat healthy treat, it can't begin to compare with a bowl of fresh blueberries..