As far as antioxidants go, some tried-and-true foods already boast stellar track records: broccoli and berries, for starters. But if you’re craving something a little more trendy, these four hot-off-the-press selections are worth a look. And because every food’s nutrients have different health benefits, “it makes sense to add some of these new selections to the diet, to ensure that you’re exposed to a number of beneficial phytochemicals every day,” says Ray Sahelian, MD, a physician in Marina del Rey, California, and author of Mind Boosters (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000).
1. Goji berries
The goji berry (Lycium barbarum), called wolfberry when grown in China, is a small, sweet-tart berry native to Southeast Europe and Southwest Asia. Its red color indicates rich antioxidants, especially carotenoids. Current research focuses on this tiny fruit’s potential to reduce cancer risk (World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2006, vol. 12, no. 28). You’ll find the dried berries in the bulk bin of your natural products store, prepackaged in the dried fruit section, and incorporated into juice mixes and energy bars. How to use them: Sprinkle onto cereal with raisins; add to cookie dough; combine with handfuls of whole-grain pretzels, walnuts, banana chips, and dried blueberries for a healthy trail mix.
This tropical fruit has been used for mil-lennia in Chinese, Ayurvedic, and folk medicine to treat skin infections, wounds, and diarrhea. The fresh fruit is dark purple-red and about the size of a small tangerine, with a hard rind and sweet, soft pulp. Its key healing compounds are xanthones, powerful antioxidants shown to protect against a variety of cancers, particularly breast cancer (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2004, vol. 90, no. 1). “No human studies have been done with mangosteen and cancer, but lab studies show [that its] xanthones [exert] antitumor activity,” says Sahelian. Because the nutrients are concentrated in the bitter rind, mangosteen is usually puréed and combined with other juices to make it more palatable. (You can sometimes hunt down the whole fruit in Asian markets.) How to use it: Combine the purée with sparkling water and crushed mint for a refreshing cocktail, or add to fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Açai (Euterpe oleracea) is the fruit of an Amazonian palm tree revered by Brazilians as “the tree of life.” After Oprah named it one of the world’s top superfoods, this blueberrylike fruit became an overnight celebrity. Açai (ah-SAH-ee) contains abundant antioxidants called anthocyanins, “which have antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and cardioprotective activity,” says Sahelian, as well as promising anticancer potential (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 2006, vol. 54, no. 4; European Journal of Cancer, 2005, vol. 41, no. 13). Grown only in the rain forest and extremely perishable, açai must be processed before shipping. Look for the deep-purple juice in the refrigerated or frozen section of your store. How to use it: Add the juice or pulp to smoothies, whisk into salad dressing, or combine with sparkling water and a handful of pomegranate seeds.
4. Cocoa nibs
The newest cool food on the culinary circuit, cocoa nibs are simply roasted cocoa beans that have been separated from their husks and broken into bits. They’re about the size of pine nuts, with a dark color and slightly bitter flavor, and have all the healing compounds of chocolate—minus the sugar and butter. “Ounce for ounce, nothing you can eat has more antioxidants than chocolate,” says Joe Vinson, PhD, professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. Chocolate is especially beneficial to heart health; it’s been shown to lower blood pressure, boost beneficial HDL cholesterol, and improve blood vessel function. Look for cocoa nibs in the bulk bins or baking aisle at natural markets. How to use them: Sprinkle over ice cream, stir into puddings or baked goods, blend into smoothies, or cook with milk and strain for hot cocoa.
Health and food writer Lisa Turner is a frequent contributor to Delicious Living.