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Photo: Bing cherries. Link to photo information
ARS researchers are looking at the different bioavailabilities of antioxidants in foods such as Bing cherries. Click the image for more information about it.

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Eating Is Stressful, But Antioxidants Can Help

By Marcia Wood
March 13, 2008

No matter how pleasant a meal is, eating causes what's known as oxidative stress. As we digest our food, we create sometimes-harmful molecules known as free radicals. But antioxidants—healthful compounds in fruits and vegetables—can help by neutralizing the free radicals.

That's yet another good reason to eat at least some antioxidant-rich foods at every meal, according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Ronald L. Prior. To learn more about the effects of antioxidants on postprandial, or after-meal, oxidative stress, Prior and co-investigators collaborated in four clinical studies with healthy female volunteers.

The scientists found that the antioxidant capacity of volunteers' blood plasma samples declined after eating a test meal that lacked antioxidants. But the scientists also found, for the first time, that consuming grapes with that same test meal prevented the decline in plasma antioxidant capacity of the volunteers during the first two hours following the test meal—the time digestion is the most rapid.

Prior, based at the ARS-funded Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Ark., noted that omitting antioxidant-rich foods from meals could lead to cellular damage by free radicals. Such damage is thought to increase risk of atherosclerosis, cancer and other diseases.

Prior did the work with Liwei Gu and Xianli Wu at the Arkansas nutrition center; Richard A. Cook at the University of Maine-Orono; Robert A. Jacob and Gity Sotoudeh, both formerly with the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, Davis, Calif.; and Adel A. Kader with the University of California-Davis.

The experiments were part of a larger study that compared the ability of the human body to use the antioxidants in Bing cherries, dried plums, dried plum juice, kiwifruit, red grapes, strawberries and wild blueberries. Scientists used an ARS-developed method called ORAC, short for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, to evaluate the fruits' antioxidant capacity. They documented their findings in 2007 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Read more about this research in the March 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.