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Diet of coffee, nuts and berries keeps you healthy

Diet of coffee, nuts and berries keeps you healthy
According to the dominant school of thought in nutritional science, potatoes, whole grains, vegetables and fruit form the foundation of a healthy diet. These foods provide us with the substances we need to protect us from heart attacks and cancer. But a Norwegian study, in which researchers at the University of Oslo analysed the amount of antioxidants in 3100 foods, suggests that nutritionists may be on the wrong track.

The Norwegians brought extracts of different foods into contact with iron radicals. By determining the speed with which they lost their electrical charge the Norwegians calculated the amount of antioxidants in the foods they tested. Although only some of the bioactive substances found in food protect health through their antioxidant effect, the test gives an indication of the total quantity of bioactive substances in different foods.

And as a result the researchers were able to compile the table below, which shows the amount of antioxidants different groups of food contain, expressed as mmoles/100g. The most interesting measurements are shaded in the table.

Diet of coffee, nuts and berries keeps you healthy

Beverages, spices and (medicinal) herbs are the most important sources of antioxidants.

Of the beverages, espresso, coffee and red wine score highest, with 14.2, 2.5 and 2.5 mmole/100g respectively. After them come green tea and pomegranate juice.

Now from herbs and spices you only get a couple of grams. But in a normal diet you consume nuts and grains in larger quantities. In this category the highest scores go to pecan nuts and walnuts, 21.9 and 8.5 mmole/100g, followed by sunflower seeds and chestnuts. Grains score badly.

A category that should contain high amounts of antioxidants is fruit. Going by the figures in the table below, berries and rosehips are indeed healthy. But this is not true for much of the fruit we now eat, like oranges, papaya and mangos.

Diet of coffee, nuts and berries keeps you healthy

If you confine yourself to what an average north European chooses in the way of fruit in a supermarket, then it's dried apples and prunes that score highest.

Of course the Norwegian analysis is only an approximation, but on the other hand: a rough and ready analysis is better than none at all. And on the basis of this rough analysis you might start to think that our current 'healthy' diet leans too heavily on grains, potatoes and some types of fruit we mistakenly consider to be healthy. Maybe it's time to start eating less grains, potato and standard fruit, and go for more nuts and berries.

Nutr J. 2010 Jan 22; 9:3.