Antioxidants and Acai Berry in Juice

An online food & beverage news article states that a drink made with acai berries has more antioxidants than any similar beverage, and quotes the manufacturer as saying that the acai berry has more antioxidants than any other fruit on earth.

Every month another food (usually a berry or fruit) is tested for antioxidants and often declared to have more than any other food. Most plant foods are naturally high in antioxidants, so we are in no danger of lacking such nutrients if we eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. But the antioxidant content of every natural food that grows on the planet has not been tested (it requires an expensive lab test), so claiming that something is the “highest” is misleading without stating that it is the highest “of those tested so far.” And this is assuming that the quantities compared are the same (e.g., “100 g of fresh fruit,” rather than dried or frozen), which they often aren’t. As for nutrition claims about antioxidant content, a food can only be declared “high in” (or an “excellent source of”) the two antioxidants required on the Nutrition Facts label – that means vitamin C and vitamin A, and the food must have at least 20% of the DV (for at least one of the vitamins) to make the claim. A potentially bigger issue is whether more antioxidants is always better. The jury is still out on whether antioxidants help combat existing cancers, because studies have shown an excess can do the opposite, the theory being that cancer cells may depend on antioxidants to thwart the body’s natural mechanisms to kill faulty cells.

Other facts: When a fruit is made into a juice, nutrient content (including antioxidants, and especially vitamin C) can fall significantly, due to processing, exposure to air, etc., not to mention addition of water and other ingredients, which dilute the nutrient density. A processed (i.e., packaged, transported, etc.) product will have fewer nutrients than the original fruit, so a nutrition claim for the fruit will generally not be true of the juice. It is also misleading to state (as the acai berry promoters love to do) that any one food will supply all the nutrients you need. This might be true of mother’s milk for an infant, but that’s the only case where this is true of a food. Just because a food contains a variety of vitamins and nutrients does not mean they are present in sufficient quantities or proportions to sustain life. Eating a variety of foods is the only way to get all the nutrients we need from real foods.

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