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Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods

On average, plant foods have 64 times more antioxidant power than red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs, but is it a fair comparison?

August 23, 2011 |
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 In a review on vegetarian diets and public health published last year, they  concluded that sufficient scientific evidence exists for public healthy policy to ptromote a plant-rich diet for health promotion. This does not need to wair for science to provide all the answers as to why and how.

 But this is certainly one reason On average, 64 times more antioxidant power in plant foods than animal foods, but is it really a fair comparison? Included in the plant group were some things that were just off the charts, like some exotic wild berries, herbal medicines that really skewed the chart upwards. People eat corn,  they don’t eat dried Norwegian cornflowers. So let’s  bring it down to earth.

The average plant food may have over a thousand micromoles of ferric ion reducing antioxidant power per decagram, but for comparison’s sake I’m going to choose the least healthy plant food I can think of,  good old American iceburg lettuce, which I think of as basically just water. It doesn’t have 1,157 units of antioxidant power,  it has, 17 units.

 Still beats out fish, though, which averages 11. Even nice pink salmon?  7. Chicken?  6. A hardboiled egg?  2 And eggbeaters, which is just the whites,  zero. Even  coca cola has 4! The  same amount found in cow’s milk, and yogurt, though soymilk  only has about twice that. The best animal foods can do, in the meat category, is a serving of  ox liver at 71. It beat out  moose meat, reindeer steak, but… still couldn’t quote reach,  a Snickers bar. This is why we need to eat a plant-based diet.

There is one animal product, however,  that does kick some serious tush. There are samples of blueberries that didn’t even test that antioxidant rich. An animal product so healthy, I encourage everyone to consume it… when they’re a baby.  Human breast milk.

During infancy, breast is best. After infancy plants are preferred.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger
  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/NouhAlaoui/ Nouh Alaoui

    amazing :) thanks

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/lbateman/ lbateman

    Way to go, Dr. Greger: this couldn’t be put any better way!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Thank you both for visiting the site and leaving comments. Please let me know if any questions arise.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/MichelleGoddard/ Michelle Goddard

    These comparisons of plants to animal products are undoubtedly enlightening and of course we should all be eating huge amounts of salad and greens daily.. but it would be great to see some discussions about grass fed beef/dairy and pastured eggs thrown into the mix, to see how we could improve our nutrition (and animal welfare/food production standards) without giving up some of our favourite animal products too.

    Thanks for the videos, all very informative and thought-provoking..

    Michelle from http://www.mybigfatgreenblog.wordpress.com

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Regardless of how meat is handled and how animals are raised, animal products in itself are nutrient poor and is a cancer promoter. There are not many positive things that can be said about meat even if it were organic. Its still not healthy.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/wickedchicken/ wickedchicken

    LOL at the snickers bar. Love the way you present the data! I wonder, what portion did they use of each? Average portion of lettuce V average portion of fish? I presume. I wouldn’t be eating a whole head of lettuce very often……!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      I think the measurements were looking at concentrations of antioxidants in the foods.
      “all samples were homogenized, dry samples were pulverized and solid samples were chopped in a food processor…The concentration of antioxidants was measured”
      You can read more about it here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841576/ on the “Sample collection and sample preparation” heading.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/PeterHeeks/ Peter Heeks

        Hi, I have just followed the link you posted and read through some of the original study, including the pdf file with all of the results in. The results really confuse me! The amounts of the foods I considered high antioxidant seem to be a lot lower than I would have thought.

        For example, I eat lots of red lentils & medjool dates, and was expecting them to be very high. Apparently red lentils are 0.23 per 100g (this is a third of the snickers bar mentioned?). USA Medjool dates are showing as only 0.56, so only 2/3rds of the snickers bar?

        I am disheartened by these results, considering I thought I was following a very high antioxidant diet, I don’t have huge quantities by weight of berries and spices very often, so have to rely on my staple foods. Even Broccoli is showing as approx 1.0, compared to a snickers bar being 0.73.

        Could you do anything to put these results in perspective, or are we just consuming much less antioxidants then we might think even following a rich plant based diet?

        • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

          I can only partially answer this question and say that although brocolli may not have a mega dose of antioxidants, antioxidants are phytochemicals but not all phytochemicals are antioxidants. Most phytochemicals being studied for health reasons do function as antioxidants, but many serve additional functions that are unrelated to their role as antioxidants. So brocolli may come close to antixoxidant content of a snickers bar but this is only part of the nutrient profile. Hope this helped!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/KamalPrasad/ Kamal Prasad

    Has there been any study done on diet post stroke and recovery?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

      Hi KamalPrasad, Unfortunately I’m not aware of any studies in this area. It would be nice if there was more studies done in this area. We’ll all have to stay tuned. On the other hand there are several studies that show that following a whole food plant based diet will result in lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels which one would imagine would lower the risk of having another stroke. see Dr. Gregers videos nutritionfacts.org/videos/avoiding-cholesterol-is-a-no-brainer/ and nutritionfacts.org/videos/whose-health-unaffected-by-eggs/

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/barbarah/ BarbaraH

    Here’s something I happened to come across recently that might help put the anti-oxidant thing in some perspective. It’s a message board response by Jeff Novick, on a McDougall forum. I hope it’s okay to put the link here. Scroll down to 4) in Jeff’s response, where he starts talking about antioxidants. It’s very long. http://www.drmcdougall.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=11112

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

      Hi BarbaraH- Thanks for the link. Jeff Novick is one of the best read evidence based registered dieticians I know. His post points added to the videos that Dr. Greger has previously posted point out some of the difficulties in figuring out how much and what type of antioxidants to consume, how to prepare foods, are the antioxidants absorbed(i.e adding a squeeze of citrus to green tea markedly increases absorption), do they make it into the cells or their organelles through the effects of outside factors such as stress.It is complex. See Dr. Greger’s previous videos: http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/mitochondrial-theory-of-aging/ and http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/antioxidant-level-dynamics/ among others for further information. I would just keep up with the science by following reliable sources and make the best choices as you plan your whole food plant based diet.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/PatrickMcNerthney/ Patrick McNerthney

    Speaking of Jeff Novick, I am a little confused over your opinion of iceberg lettuce versus Jeff’s here:

    Jeff’s conclusion is: “Iceberg lettuce is a healthy food. Not only is it fairly high in nutrient density, it is very low in calorie density. Yet, somehow it gets relegated to the level of junk food.”

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      I have heard this as well from Jeff, I am curious as to what Dr. Greger makes of it.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Based on it’s nutritional content, it’s the least healthy leafy green on the planet, but even the least healthy green is healthier than a lot of what the public eats! Check out my video Nation’s Diet in Crisis to see just how bad the Standard American Diet is.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

        Ahh, this makes sense. Thanks!

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/PatrickMcNerthney/ Patrick McNerthney

        I agree the Standard American Diet is in crisis, that is not my question at all.

        In your video, you said “Iceberg lettuce, which I think of as bascially just water”.

        This is what I am a little confused about versus examining the actualy nutritional facts of iceberg lettuce. It may be the “least healthy leafy green”, but that does not make it unhealthly. Similarly, grass fed, lean beef may be the “most healthly beef”, but that doesn’t make it healthy.

        It appears at first glance that you have fallen victim to a food myth. Do you really consider iceberg lettuce to be basically just water in nutritional content?

        • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

          Iceberg lettuce is 96% water, but that’s not a bad thing–water is a nutrient too! I’m not saying it’s junk food; I’m just saying that any other green is better so if you have a choice (and even most salad bars these days offer alternatives) pick something better.

          • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/PatrickMcNerthney/ Patrick McNerthney

            I still think you are dissing iceberg lettuce unjustifiably. Romaine lettuce is 95% water so I don’t see the point about iceberg lettuce being 96% water making them all that different. Is that 1% difference really that significant?

            As long as one is eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, iceberg lettuce is a perfectly good and healthy choice at times, even if other leafy greens are available. Some people prefer it, so it might mean that they end up eating more resulting in more net nutrients. Also, if one needed more Vitamin C or E, then iceberg lettuce is the better choice.

            I suppose if one doesn’t eat a proper wide variety of fruits and vegetables, then the slight difference might make a difference. But if one is eating a healthy, plant-based diet and you like iceberg lettuce, enjoy it without any stigma or guilt.

        • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

          Patrick, I think the point Dr. Greger is making is that, yes, iceberg lettuce is healthy but there are other greens and vegetables that are far healthier. Iceberg lettuce is the most consumed by American families and it would contribute to their health if they ate more of the cruciferous greens.

  • Michael Greger M.D.
  • ConcernedVegan

    ORAC value of foods (aside from the vitamin C and E) have never been shown to have any benefit in vivo, they might be potent in a test tube, but have little to no antioxidant benefits in the body.  In fact, only 5% of phytochemical antioxidants are even absorbed and then they’re fast-tracked to the liver for excretion.  The only benefit of phytochemicals is probably their hormetic effect, as the body treats them as a toxin.  Also, the amino acids in meat (and meat has a much more favorable amino acid profile for this and much higher protein density) can be directly used by the body to produce glutathione, the most potent antioxidant in vivo.  Not to mention meat has very high concentrations of CoQ10, the second most powerful antioxidant in vivo, as well as creatine (an indirect antioxidant by boosting mitochondria efficiency), Carnitine and Carnosine (two potent in vivo antioxidants).  All of these meat-derived antioxidants are critical to antioxidant recycling in the human body, which are FAR more important then total antioxidant numbers.  Antioxidants without proper recycling chains just become pro-oxidants.  It’s great that your a vegan (I’m one myself for ethical reasons), but purposely misleading people by presenting information in a bias fashion and/or cherry-picking what studies you analyze is quite unethical and completely goes against what real science is about.  I would never try to stretch the science to make it look like a vegan diet is more healthy than a vegan-style diet that also incorporates 6-10oz of whole-food meats per day. 

    • N_

      Don’t know how this site works, if you will see my reply or not. But have you received an answer on that?

  • ConcernedVegan

    Why did my post get deleted?  Nice censorship…
    ORAC value of foods (aside from the vitamin C and E) have never been shown to have any benefit in vivo, they might be potent in a test tube, but have little to no antioxidant benefits in the body.  In fact, only 5% of phytochemical antioxidants are even absorbed and then they’re fast-tracked to the liver for excretion.  The only benefit of phytochemicals is probably their hormetic effect, as the body treats them as a toxin.  Also, the amino acids in meat (and meat has a much more favorable amino acid profile for this and much higher protein density) can be directly used by the body to produce glutathione, the most potent antioxidant in vivo.  Not to mention meat has very high concentrations of CoQ10, the second most powerful antioxidant in vivo, as well as creatine (an indirect antioxidant by boosting mitochondria efficiency), Carnitine and Carnosine (two potent in vivo antioxidants).  All of these meat-derived antioxidants are critical to antioxidant recycling in the human body, which are FAR more important then total antioxidant numbers.  Antioxidants without proper recycling chains just become pro-oxidants.  It’s great that your a vegan (I’m one myself for ethical reasons), but purposely misleading people by presenting information in a bias fashion and/or cherry-picking what studies you analyze is quite unethical and completely goes against what real science is about.  I would never try to stretch the science to make it look like a vegan diet is more healthy than a vegan-style diet that also incorporates 6-10oz of whole-food meats per day. 

  • ConcernedVegan

    Sorry, for my hasty assumption.  I see it wasn’t deleted and i apologize.

  • Freepam

    This is an old video but I am wondering why you are comparing anti-oxidant values of plants and meats. Surely people eat meat for protein and fats, and then have the plants for the anti-oxidants. I hear you that meat isn’t great for us and I haven’t even watched any of those videos yet. But I am still eating some grass fed organic raised meat because I got too thin on a plant diet alone.

    • Toxins

      Animal fat, that being saturated fat, serves no dietary purpose for us and the more we consume the less healthy we are.

      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/trans-fat-saturated-fat-and-cholesterol-tolerable-upper-intake-of-zero/

      As for protein, all whole plant foods contain complete proteins and if one eats till they are hungry till they are full then they are getting adequate protein.
       Just because beef is organic and grass fed does not change inherent traits of meat that make it harmful. For example, bacteria inherently grows on meat and endotoxins found in meat is an inherent trait. These endotoxins cause chronic inflammation.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/?s=endotoxin

      Continue exploring this wbesite and you will  find that the issue with meat is far more then just contamination.
       

      • Freepam

        Thank you. I watched all the Volume 9 videos and I am convinced to try a plant based diet again. I am being tested now for Gluten sensitivity with cross-linked foods so that eliminates most starches from my diet. I’m just scared to go down to 95 lbs again like I did on the vegan diet last time.

  • Micheleski

    Hi, thanks for the video. What is the unit measure based on unit per calorie? Unit per  oz? 

  • Tush

    Doc, your video is useless. Why don’t you actually state vegetable based foods that are high in antioxidants?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Please click on the next videos. I go into excruciating detail.

  • Moses Nachman

    okay, so let us assume that plant-based foods are far more healthy to eat than animal-based foods. but within the plant foods, which are the healthiest? that is, assuming that the five main categories of plant foods are fruits, raw vegetables, high-starch vegetables, nuts, and seeds, what is the order of the healthiest plant food group to the least healthy?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I’ve got a video on that! Somewhere… Anyone remember?