Fruits and vegetables are a well-known source of polyphenols, which is one reason they are credited as foods that are so good for you. However, there's new research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) that finds surprisingly large amounts of these same powerful antioxidants in whole grains. So, are whole grains the new antioxidant rich foods we should all be eating?
That's right, the same good-for-you compounds make an impressive showing in some pretty popular (and tasty) breakfast cereals and crunchy snacks.
The groundbreaking study involved measuring the total antioxidant content of popular breakfast cereals and whole grain snacks available at the supermarket.
The foods measured included whole grain flours, 28 ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, 4 hot cereals and another 38 grain-based foods, like pasta, popcorn, crackers and chips.
Once researchers thought it was the fiber in these whole grains that offer all the benefits to the body... but no more.
"Early researchers thought the fiber was the active ingredient for these benefits in whole grains, the reason why they may reduce the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease," explains researcher Joe Vinson, PhD, a chemist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. "But recently, polyphenols emerged as potentially more important. Breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers, and salty snacks constitute over 66% of whole grain intake in the U.S. diet."
Polyphenols are chemicals that occur naturally in plants and do have anti-inflammatory properties. Science believes that this most abundant of antioxidants helps to remove free radicals from the body and may assist in the fight against heart disease and cancer. They may even offer some protection against Alzheimer's disease.
Topping the list of breakfast cereals was Raisin Bran, with the highest antioxidant count per serving at 524 milligrams. The raisins get a good amount of the credit for this. Based on the typical serving, Vinson and his team found that oat cereals had the highest levels of antioxidants, followed by corn, wheat, hot oat cereals and rice cereals.
Other cold cereals like ones with cinnamon and cocoa flavorings were higher in antioxidants that you might expect from just the grain content alone.
Another surprise? Bran cereals made from wheat aren't much higher in antioxidants than other wheat cereals, though they do bring more fiber. Breakfast staples like porridge oats were actually found to have lower than expected levels of polyphenols.
When it comes to grain based snacks loaded with helpful antioxidants, popcorn has the most polyphenols (2.6%), though to maintain the health benefits, be sure and watch the salt. Next in line are whole grain crackers (0.45%), while most processed tortilla chips did not fare so well, though no information on the snack brands examined was supplied.
Nutritionists who've long been calling for us to increase our consumption of things like green tea, red wine, fruits and nuts for their antioxidant content may soon be adding whole grain options to the mix.
Still caution is advised, especially as many cereal brands have many ingredients that are not so good for you. What's more, it's easy to eat more cereal than you intend, so watch those serving sizes.
Still Dr. Vinson sees lots of positives. Cereals are a readily available product, especially for young students, and people generally like to eat them.
This research points out that encouraging eating more whole grain snacks and cereals, as well as other healthy foods, might be the best way to add the amount of antioxidants rich foods in your diet that your body needs.
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