'Power Foods' For Your Health

Antioxidants are thought to be help ward off heart disease and cancer, while keeping immune systems, the mind and eyes in good shape. They're apparently so good for you, they've been dubbed "power foods."

Now, the United Stated Department of Agriculture has put together a list of the 20 foods with the highest concentration of antioxidants.

Health magazine contributor and clinical nutritionist Samantha Heller stopped by The Early Show and explained to co-anchor Rene Syler that it's easier to incorporate "power food" into your diet than you may think.

How do antioxidants work? "They actually fight the damage to the cells that can cause disease," Heller says. "They protect the cell membranes from free radicals, which are molecules -- sort of like a dating Web site, where you have a lot of single people looking for a date. Well, these molecules are single, looking for a cell membrane to latch onto, and they can damage it. Antioxidants pair up with them and keep them from damaging the cells, and that can keep you from heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.

As for the USDA's list:

  1. Small red beans
  2. Wild blueberries
  3. Red Kidney beans
  4. Pinto beans
  5. Cultivated Blueberries
  6. Cranberries
  7. Artichokes
  8. Blackberries
  9. Prunes
  10. Raspberries
  11. Strawberries
  12. Red Delicious & Granny Smith apples
  13. Pecans
  14. Sweet cherries
  15. Black plums
  16. Russet potatoes
  17. Black beans
  18. Plums
  19. Gala apples
  20. Walnuts

Foods that didn't make the top 20 but are also packed with healthy minerals and antioxidants include avocado, asparagus, broccoli rabe, and -- chocolate! Though chocolate isn't as high as the others, it has a Total Antioxidant Capacity (TAC) of 1039. Compared with 4118 in, say, plums, that's still pretty impressive. Chocolate has "healthy compounds, healthy flavonoids -- the bitterer the chocolate, the better" for you, according to Heller.

There's another measure, called Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC), which determines how foods absorb or quench "the bad guys." Foods high on this list include kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, beets and many of the same berries that have high TAC.

Seven of the twenty are berries, Heller notes: "If you look at berries and how beautiful their deep rich colors are, those colors signify a very strong concentrated dose of antioxidants. And we have studies that show us that berries, in and of themselves, help prevent bladder infections and Alzheimer's, age-related brain decline, that kind of thing. They have fiber, but the also have vitamins and minerals, and they're low in calories and they're sweet. So they're perfect."

Beans, dried or canned, are wonderful, Heller adds. Canned beans are just as nutritious.

One way to get a lot of antioxidants in one sitting is through a delicious salad. People think of salads as lettuce and tomato, but you can make so many interesting salads with so many personalities by mixing all sorts of healthy foods together.

There are many antioxidants and phytochemicals in other foods that also protect us from disease. These work in many different ways in the body.
The bottom line, Heller says, is that people should include not only the "power foods" on the list, but a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds in their diets every day.