It isn't necessarily in the dishes you would expect, such as sweet potatoes or cranberries, but in the stuffing.
German researchers have discovered that during the baking of bread, an antioxidant called pronyl-lysine is created, especially in the crust.
"[Pronyl-lysine] is more present in the crust because you need higher temperatures to generate that compound," says study author Thomas Hofmann, a professor and head of the Institute for Food Chemistry at the University of Muenster.
Results of the study appear in the new issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Antioxidants are healthful compounds found in many foods. Vitamins C and E are two examples of antioxidants. These compounds are believed to help fight cancer and other diseases, according to the American Dietetic Association.
Hofmann and his colleagues analyzed a sourdough bread mixture that contained rye and wheat flour, and discovered the pronyl-lysine after baking. The antioxidant was not present in the flour used to make the bread.
The antioxidant is created during a chemical reaction between the amino acid L-lysine and starch and sugars in the bread. This same reaction causes the crust to have a darker color than the rest of the bread, Hoffmann says.
Pronyl-lysine is also found in malt, as well as in beer. The antioxidant is present in higher amounts in dark bread and beer, Hofmann says.
He adds that pronyl-lysine is formed in bread with yeast or without, but it is more abundant when the bread is baked in smaller pieces, as it might be for used in stuffing.
Once the scientists identified the antioxidant, they tested it on human intestinal cells in the lab and found that pronyl-lysine increased the amount of certain enzymes that are believed to play a role in the prevention of some cancers.
The next step in the research is to learn if the antioxidant is actually absorbed into the blood during digestion, where it might be able to help fight disease. The researchers are currently conducting animal tests to see if this occurs.
Of course, this doesn't mean you can gorge yourself with stuffing on Thanksgiving, guilt-free.
"People who like to complement their Thanksgiving meal with stuffing need to remember that stuffing is usually soaked with butter and gravy. And antioxidants can't counteract those things," says Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City.
Heller also points out the German study is only the first step in the research. Now, she says, the scientists need to learn what the antioxidant does when it's in the body and how available it is in the blood after digestion.
Bread, and its crust, can be part of healthy diet, however, adds Heller. She says fiber, which is found in whole grain breads, fruits and vegetables, is a known disease fighter and it helps keep you feeling full.
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