August 10, 2003, Updated September 13, 2012

Whole fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of natural antioxidantsIt turns out that Mom’s advice was on target after all: if you want to stay healthy, eat all of the vegetables on your plate.

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have discovered that antioxidants in supplement form don’t measure up to the benefits that come from eating the whole vegetables or fruits from which they are derived.

In addition, they found that eating combinations of these foods — rather than just one — increases their benefits and preventive properties against cardiovascular disease because each contains a variety of different antioxidants. Dietary antioxidants are natural compounds that slow the chemical process called oxidation, which causes cholesterol deposition in the arteries and narrowing of the arteries.

And if you happen to have a family recipe for a dish combining onions, licorice, olive oil, pomegranates and tomatoes, now is a good time to whip it up for dinner. These foods, according to the research, would be the ideal combination of antioxidants. The findings were most recently published in a recent issue of Free Radical Research. They were also published in Antioxidants and Redox Signaling.

“Whole fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of natural antioxidants,” said Professor Michael Aviram, Head of the Lipid Research Laboratory Faculty of Medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. “In a supplement form, however, antioxidants provide only limited benefits since they usually contain only one specific, isolated antioxidant.”

Aviram mentions vegetables like onions and tomatoes, herbs like garlic, licorice and rosemary, and fruits like grapes (and red wine) and pomegranates as good sources of a variety of natural antioxidants. The Technion researchers also found in their work that ingesting combinations of certain antioxidants yield better results than those same antioxidants ingested separately.

“Take Vitamin E, for instance, which only fights a specific type of free radical,” explained Aviram. “When Vitamin E is combined with other antioxidants (beta carotene, lycopene and some flavonoids) found in tomatoes, the benefits are far greater than those of vitamin E taken alone, because there is a synergistic, cooperative interaction between certain antioxidants.”

Professor Aviram has been studying the effects of various foods on cholesterol oxidation and cardiovascular diseases for many years. In his previous widely published studies, he was the first scientist to prove that red wine reduces cholesterol oxidation and reduces arteriosclerosis, which leads to heart diseases, a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the Western world.

Later studies he conducted confirmed the antioxidant benefits of licorice, olive oil, onions and most significantly, pomegranates.

Commenting on the findings, Prof. Elliot Berry, head of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and a senior expert in metabolism and diet, told The Jerusalem Post: “Prof. Aviram is a serious researcher, and this sounds good. We in Jerusalem previously published the theoretical basis of giving vitamins E and C together. It is important that they made the point about getting vitamins naturally in real food is preferable to taking them in tablet form.”*

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