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Battling Heart Disease Kiwi Style

(24 February 2000 )

The French may be battling heart disease with red wine, but in New Zealand kumara, watercress and blackcurrent juice may be the answer.

Carolyn Lister and Paula Wilson of Crop and Food Research are working with the Christchurch School of Medicine to develop new ways to measure the amount of antioxidant activity in the food we eat.

Antioxidants found in most fruits and vegetables are thought to lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular and other degenerative diseases of aging. The research is an investment of the Public Good Science Fund and focuses partly on the antioxidant benefits of foods that are readily available in New Zealand.

ôBlackcurrant juice which is made with a high percentage of fruit has very high antioxidant activity and a glass of this has similar antioxidant activity to a glass of red wine,ö said Dr Lister.

ôRed leaf lettuce is much higher in antioxidants than the traditional green, heart lettuce and kumara has much higher antioxidant activity than potatoes. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as watercress, are also a very good source of antioxidants.ö

ôThere is a lot of interest around the world in antioxidants, some, like Vitamins C and E, and beta carotene, have been known for years, but the phenolics have only come to light more recently. However there are still significant gaps in our scientific knowledge,ö said Dr Lister.

ôThe specific effects within the human body are still largely unknown, so it's difficult to say which vegetables and fruits are most beneficial in the battle against particular diseases and why.ö

The study is also looking at improving the effectiveness of dietary supplements for those subgroups of the population with special needs.

ôWe have a particular concern for Mèori health and have been working with Mèori health groups, this includes examining some traditional foods such as puha and watercress.

ôIn promoting the health of New Zealanders, diet, relaxation and exercise are acknowledged as key tools for ensuring the health of any population. While, in theory, these needs could be met by imported products, in practice a local industry is likely to be more effective in targeting the specific needs of a population or sub- population,ö said Dr Lister.

The team are also developing a ranking system for fruit and vegetables in terms of their antioxidant activity.

For further information:

Carolyn Lister on (03) 325 6400 or by email: Madeleine Setchell, Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, Ph 04 498 7806, Mobile 025 40 60 40

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