Saturday, October 20, 2012

Food Facts: A sigh for Acai

It's been crazy here. I have had two tests every week - every Monday and Tuesday, for the last several weeks. 
I was smart enough to only take two classes this semester, but I'm not smart enough to just keep up with them! I do dumb things, like take on-line webinars, to learn more about foods and how they impact our biochemistry, instead of studying for upcoming tests. Like last Saturday, I decided to take an on-line course on bioactive substances, like antioxidants, instead of studying. This webinar, From Antioxidants to New Functional Benefits, was really eye opening! It pointed out that the
Antioxidants activity/free radical scavenging hypothesis is being dismissed. 
What? This is crazy!
For the past several years, we were told that antioxidants in the diet may help reduce oxidative stress, which is linked to aging, chronic and degenerative diseases, like cancer, heart disease Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Now, the antioxidant theory is being dismissed? This is huge! Especially for someone, like me, who lives in a state where 34% of the 40-64year olds and 60% of those 65years and older will be diagnosed with cancer!
I want all the protection from cancer
- and if I can get it from food, mmm, mmm, good!
For years, we have been told that the active ingredients in fruits and veggies include vitamins, like Vitamin A & C; essential minerals, like potassium and magnesium; fiber, insoluble and soluble; and phytochemical, such as carotenoids, chlorophyll and flavanoids (includes anthocyanidins - the stuff everyone justifies why they drink red wine).
We were told, "Eat all your colors" based on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of foods, which was supposedly an indication of antioxidant activity. Foods with rich color, had high ORAC values and were deemed "Superfoods".
The theory: The higher the ORAC value, the higher the antioxidant value.
ORAC charts were completely exploited as marketing tools!
The lowly Acai Berry started to make headlines!
I never even heard of the Acai berry before 2006. Now you can find it in the local grocery store in pulp, juice, freeze dried, pill and tablet forms! Another superfood that hit headlines is the amazing Goji berry. Both Acai and Goji berry have been touted for health benefits based on their ORAC values, which was defined by the National Institutes of Health, as a measurement linking oxidative capacity to fluorescence. The degree of oxidative protection (antioxidant capacity) was quantified and interpreted as an ORAC score.
This is also (one) theory behind why raw is better when eating veggies:
Why boil or steam? Just eat 'em raw ...if you can digest them that way!
If boiled veggies have less color, steamed veggies have a little more color, and raw veggies have the most color - you should eat those veggies raw because then you are preserving the color, and not affecting the antioxidant capacity.
This past year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), publisher of the ORAC data, withdrew its USDA ORAC Database for Selected Foods from the Nutrient Data Laboratory!
So, what's this mean?
This means that the ORAC values don't have any relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds.
I feel so sorry for the Acai Berry!
I guess we will have to start looking for life somewhere else!
This is not to say that bioactive compounds do not have a role in preventing or ameliorating disease - it means that the ORAC data for antioxidant capacity of foods generated in a test-tube cannot be extrapolated to real time human effects because past clinical trials have not proven a consistent link between ORAC values and antioxidant capacity. Result: claims to link beneficial effects to antioxidant activity in food are being withdrawn!
Even the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a statement denouncing claims regarding the antioxidant content/properties of food!
The EFSA forbids claims in Europe touting benefits of antioxidant constituents of food since there is no proof that these antioxidant food constituents have any ability to scavenge free radicals, or offer beneficial physiological effects in humans, or protect human cells from premature aging, healthy aging, or claimed effects (like prevention or amelioration of chronic and degenerative diseases: cancer, heart disease Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease).
One reason ORAC values and antioxidant capacity of foods are being dismissed is because their concentrations in humans cannot be properly measured.
So do these fruits and vegetables that we once thought of as "super foods" offer any health benefits?
Fruits and veggies are still a great source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals - now, though, phytochemicals aren't being researched in terms of their antioxidant capacity - instead, they are being studied in other ways, like how they may positively impact our cardiovascular system.

I had a reader once comment, "I only eat healthy food, that tastes good." This is, by far, the best way to look at fresh fruits and veggies! I must admit, though, the idea that some foods have super powers, is seductive!
Super Garlic
Post a Comment