Foods You Should Be Eating

We recently received a reader question about the health benefits of dates, dried cherries and dark chocolate. Are these foods high in antioxidants? Is this what makes them healthy, or is it something else?

We asked expert Diane McKay, PhD, Assistant Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, for some thoughts on what fuels these foods. Here’s what she had to say.

It’s not so much the antioxidants in these foods, but the phytochemicals that contribute to their health benefits. Phytochemicals are compounds found in all plant-based foods, of which there are thousands, and many have some activity in the body after we consume them.

The most common types of phytochemicals are the polyphenols and the flavonoids. Where can these be found?

  • Dates
  • Dried Cherries
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Beans and Legumes
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Tea and Herbal Teas
  • Coffee
  • Red Wine
  • Cocoa

And the list goes on…

While most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity, this is not their primary action in the body. That is, they do much more than just stop free radicals from damaging our cells. Many of the polyphenols and flavonoids we consume also control our cells and genes so, among other activities, they:

  • Help with detoxification
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Decrease blood clots
  • Inhibit tumors

By consuming more plant-based foods and beverages in your diet you are also consuming more phytochemicals, as well as all of the important nutrients found in these foods like fiber, potassium, and other essential vitamins and minerals. So it’s a win-win situation!

Cherries” by Quinn Dombrowski is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.