News | February 25, 1999

Prunes Score Highest in Antioxidants That May Slow Aging Process

SAN FRANCISCO (Feb. 25) BUSINESS WIRE -Feb. 25, 1999--Prunes, a good source of fiber, have long been recognized as a nutrient-rich fruit with multiple health benefits.

But according to a recent study from Tufts University in Boston, prunes may also help slow the aging process in both the body and brain. The study ranks the antioxidant value of commonly eaten fruits and vegetables using an analysis called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Prunes top the list with more than twice the level of antioxidants than other high-scoring fruits such as blueberries and raisins.

ORAC is a test tube analysis that measures the total antioxidant power of foods and other chemical substances. Early findings suggest that this same antioxidant activity translates to animals, protecting cells and their components from oxidative damage.

The studies conducted at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that feeding middle-aged rats foods with plenty of antioxidants prevented loss of long-term memory and learning ability and maintained their ability to respond to a chemical stimulus.

According to Dr. Nancy Snyderman, medical correspondent for ABC news, the health benefits of antioxidants are well documented. "This study gives us one more reason to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. There's evidence in the scientific community that eating a low-fat, antioxidant-rich diet helps reduce your risk of breast and other types of cancer."

Antioxidants are special compounds that protect against oxidation, or cellular damage caused by free radicals. They are believed to protect the body by gobbling up the oxygen-derived free radicals that damage cells leading to heart disease, cancer, eye disorders like cataracts and macular degeneration, and other chronic health problems.

Well-know antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin C and beta carotene. Thousands of other compounds found in fruits and vegetables, including flavonoids, are also believed to offer the protective benefits of antioxidants.

While antioxidant vitamin supplements have grown in popularity, it may be the combination of the nutrients in the foods that have the greatest effect.

"If these studies are borne out in further research, young and middle-aged people may be able to reduce risk of diseases of aging -- including senility -- simply by adding high (antioxidant) foods to their diets," said Floyd P. Horn, administrator of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, in Beltsville, Md.

This isn't the first research indicating prunes, which are dried plums, are high in antioxidant compounds. Researchers at the University of California, at Davis, found that prunes contain high amounts of neochlorogenic acid, a phenolic compound, and a strong antioxidant.

In addition, prunes are fat and cholesterol-free and are a delicious way to add fiber, vitamins and minerals to meet your dietary requirement of five fruits and vegetables a day. Previous studies have shown that about 12 prunes a day decreased total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in men with elevated blood cholesterol levels.

                   Top-scoring fruits and vegetables 
             ORAC units per 100 grams (about 31/2 ounces) 

Fruits                                 Vegetables 

Prunes                      5570       Kale                  1770 
Raisins                     2830       Spinach               1260 
Blueberries                 2400       Brussels sprouts       980 
Blackberries                2036       Alfalfa sprouts        930 
Strawberries                1540       Broccoli Flowers       890 
Raspberries                 1220       Beets                  840 
Plums                        949       Red bell pepper        710 
Oranges                      750       Onion                  450 
Red grapes                   739       Corn                   400 
Cherries                     670       Eggplant               390 
Kiwi fruit                   602 
Grapefruit, pink             483 

-0- pw/sf*    rn/sf 

CONTACT: Ketchum PR for California Prune Board

          Michele Sloat, 415/984-2229 

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