Besides the obvious–they’re all fabulously yummy–what do tea, cocoa, and berries have in common?

Surprise! They all contain lots of antioxidants.

Antioxidants are typically thought of as health-promoting compounds that naturally occur in plant foods. They help prevent free radicals causing oxidation in the body. Excess oxidation is associated with everything from cancer and nuero-degenerative diseases to decreased lifespan. That’s why consuming a lot of antioxidant-rich foods is thought to be good for health and longevity.

A technical definition: Antioxdants, often in the form of polyphenols, prevent, reduce, or inhibit free radicals creating oxidative reactions in the body. Oxidation (or oxidative stress) can set off a chain reaction in the body whereby cells are harmed or killed. Overtime, oxidative stress leads to inflammation, as well as many human diseases including cancer and heart disease.

Up until 2012, antioxidant value between foods was compared using the ORAC value chart. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) measured the antioxidants by how many free radicals they could neutralize. The US Dept of Agriculture ORAC chart is no longer used because research suggests it isn’t accurate when antioxidants are tested and absorbed in the body.

So, back to tea, berries, and cocoa. Because they are all originating from plants, these three are rich in polyphenols, catechins, and phytonutrients. Cocoa also contains proanthocyanidins, while tea and berries contain flavonoids and quercetin. This means these three are packed full of good-for-you nutrients.

With cocoa and tea, it’s the bitterness in them that lends their high quantity of antioxidants. Because the bitterness carries the antioxidants, it’s important with both tea and cocoa, but especially with cocoa, not to dilute the antioxidants with milk or sugar; that’s why chocolate bars don’t have nearly the nutritional punch as unsweetened, non-dutched, cocoa powder. As far as tea, fresh steeped teas have been shown to contain more antioxidants than bottled teas. In berries, the antioxidant value is thought to come from their bright colors.

What can we learn from all this?

As one approach to longevity and good health, make sure you get antioxidants from a variety of colorful sources: teas, berries, and unprocessed cocoa, as well as other fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices.

Oh, and, by the way, delectably tasting each in a relaxed, unhurried manner may help reduce stress level and improve your health, too. 😉

That’s what I’ll be doing tonight: enjoying a chocolate and tea pairing with friends.