Common Chinese vegetables contain antioxidants with potential health benefits, researchers reported this week at the British Pharmaceutical Conference.

The presence of antioxidants is one of the reasons why people are advised to eat more fruit and vegetables. However, although considerable attention has been paid to fruit and vegetables consumed in the Western diet, little work has been carried out on those used in other cultural contexts, Lucia Luk from King's College London reported.

Luk studied five common Chinese vegetables, purchased in London. These were Chinese turnip roots, lotus roots, chilli fruits, loofah fruits and ginger rhizome. The vegetables were treated in the same way as they are usually cooked, with extracts made with water (where the vegetable is usually boiled) or ethanol (where the vegetable is fried). The extracts were then tested and all were found to have antioxidant activity, with the highest value for boiled lotus roots (nelumbo nucifera).

Antioxidants neutralise oxygen free radicals that cause cell damage. There is much interest in their potential role in foodstuffs as preventive agents against diseases, including cancer and neurodegenerative conditions.

Professor Peter Houghton, from King's College London, said that it was interesting to see that the Chinese vegetables had reasonable antioxidant activity. "It looks as if the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables is important in Hong Kong as well as in the UK," he said.