Understanding what antioxidants are is key to making this buzzword work for you.
Antioxidant is one of the biggest food buzzwords today, between consumers wanting foods that contain them to CPGs understanding the retail clout they hold, understanding what antioxidants are is key to making this buzzword work for you. Many of us know that antioxidants have the potential to improve overall health, delay the onset of many age-related diseases, prevent macular eye disease, reduce the risk of some cancers and more. Often the ORAC value is cited when speaking about antioxidants; so what is ORAC referring to and what foods boast ample marketing possibilities for their antioxidant richness?
Antioxidants are nothing more than vitamins, A, C and E, the mineral selenium, and bioactive compounds like carotenoids and polyphenols found in foods. Our need for them is derived from a paradox in metabolism. Our bodies require oxygen to function, but oxygen - by itself - is highly reactive and creates harmful byproducts through oxidation. These byproducts, called free radicals, are potentially damaging to cells. Antioxidants can stabilize free radicals before they cause harm.
The body’s defense against oxidative stress decreases over time, which is why a diet rich in antioxidant foods is needed as we age. Oxidation is a normal process that occurs in the body through normal cell function and metabolism as well as from outside sources including pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, motor vehicle emissions, and many other processes. Environmental free radicals then enter the body through the skin, respiration, and other means. Achieving a balance with an antioxidant rich diet is crucial to maintaining good health.
A food's antioxidant power is measured in units called ORACs, or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, referring to how much radical oxygen a food can absorb. The ORAC scale was developed by USDA researchers at Tufts University in order to inform the public about different foods’ antioxidant capacity.
Which foods contain the highest ORAC value? One hundred grams of grapes (about 23 grapes) rates 739 on the ORAC scale; 100 grams (about 70 blueberries) of blueberries rakes in at 2,400, raspberries (about 50) 1,220. One hundred grams of kale and spinach (about a cup and a half) contain 1,770 and 1,260 respectively. And chocolate? 100 grams contains a whopping 13,120 ORAC! (note* that is unsweetened cacao and not a milk and sugary sweetened chocolate bar).
Individual colors are important indicators - darker foods, like pomegranates (3,037 ORAC) and plums (949) tend to be more antioxidant-rich. Orange foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, and pumpkin contain beta-carotene. Lutein, known for its association with healthy eyes, is abundant in greens.
Encourage shoppers to stick with the whole foods mentioned above as well as nuts and grains. Some other vitamin A rich foods include liver, milk, and egg yolks; vitamin E is found in broccoli, almonds, and mangos, while whole grains provide selenium. If marketing antioxidants to customers make sure to include the ORAC value and to explain to shoppers what it means. Staff should also be briefed in ORAC and antioxidants as well.