Polyphenols are well known for reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, and are most abundantly found in fruits and vegetables, as well as in foods like chocolate, wine, grapes, berries, walnuts, olives, coffee, and tea. Known as antioxidants, they remove free radicals from the body, chemicals that have the potential to cause damage to your body's cells and tissues.
Until recently, it was thought it was the fibre content in commercial hot and cold whole grain cereals that gave them their healthful properties. This study is the first to show that they also were a source of polyphenols.
"Epidemiological studies have shown that consumption of whole grain foods reduce the risk for certain cancers, coronary heart disease and obesity," said Joe Vinson, Ph.D., head author of the new study. "Whole grains contain vitamins, minerals and fibre along with phenolic compounds, predominately the class known as phenolic acids. Phenolic acids are excellent antioxidants."
"Early researchers thought the fibre was the active ingredient for these benefits in whole grains, the reason why they may reduce the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease," said Dr. Vinson. "But recently, polyphenols emerged as potentially more important. Breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers, and salty snacks constitute over 66 percent of whole grain intake in the U.S. diet."
The study measured the total polyphenol content of nine whole-grain flours, 28 ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, four hot cereals, and 38 grain-based foods and snacks, including pasta, crackers, chips, and popcorn.
Dr. Vinson said, "We found that, in fact, whole grain products have comparable antioxidants per gram to fruits and vegetables. This is the first study to examine total phenol antioxidants in breakfast cereals and snacks, whereas previous studies have measured free antioxidants in the products."
According to Dr. Vinson, the whole grain cereals with the most antioxidants are made with wheat, followed by corn, oats and rice in descending order. He also noted that raisin bran has the highest amount of antioxidants per serving, primarily due to the raisins.
Overall, bran cereals made from wheat do not have more antioxidants than wheat cereals, though they do have more fibre. In other findings, Vinson said that whole grain flours are very high in antioxidants; whole grain snacks have slightly lower levels of antioxidants than cereals; and there is a wide variation in the amount of antioxidants in each class of cold cereal. The addition of cinnamon to wheat based cereals added to the levels of polyphenols.
As for snack foods, "Popcorn has far and away the greatest amount of antioxidants," said Dr. Vinson, at 2.6 percent, followed by whole-grain crackers at 0.45 percent. Sadly, most processed tortilla chips contained negligible amounts of polyphenols, as do most processed foods since the antioxidants are destroyed when the food is processed.
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