It may be of no surprise to discover that a large percentage of Canadians aren’t meeting their daily vegetable intake (1). What may surprise you however is that many aren’t consuming enough fruits (2). Not only are we not consuming enough antioxidant rich fruits but A 2005 report from the national meeting of the American Chemical Society showed that the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet is from coffee (3)! This report listed the top 10 antioxidants consumed in the American diet and they are in order: 1.coffee, 2.black tea, 3.bananas, 4.dried beans, 5.corn, 6.red wine, 7.beer, 8. apples, 9.tomatoes, and 10.potatoes. The fact that fruits and vegetables don’t dominate this top 10 list is indicative of how poor our diets really are. With so many of these top 10 not being a particularly rich source of antioxidants it is safe to assume much of the population isn’t meeting its antioxidant requirements.
Fruits are antioxidant powerhouses and you don’t have to consume large quantities to reap their rewards. An increase of one serving of fruit a day can have a profound impact on your health. Doctors Demosthenes Panagiotakos and Christina Chrysohoou from the School of Medicine at the University of Athens, speaking at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in 2003 stated that “of particular interest, a 10 per cent reduction in coronary risk was observed for every additional piece of fruit consumed per day" (4) . Other studies have shown similar results (5). Studies have also shown that fruit consumption may reduce the risks of: certain cancers (6 , 7 , 8), obesity (9), stroke (10), diabetes (11, 12), improve cognitive function (13) and slow down ageing (14) to name only a few. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that “2.4% of the burden of disease in ... the European Region was attributable to low intakes of fruit and vegetables” (15). Below is WHO table that lists the top 10 health risks and their contribution to disease (16).
To fully appreciate the importance of antioxidants one needs to understand the role of free radicals. Free radicals are reactive compounds that we produce both naturally and are exposed too in our environment through chemicals in our food, water and air. Free radicals also go by name “oxidants” or “oxygen radical species” and just like the oxygen in air causes metal to rust oxidation in our body when unchecked causes significant damage. In very general terms when these free radicals come in contact with our cells they can damage or kill them (17). In fact free
radicals have been associated with more than one hundred diseases (18). To counter the damaging effects of free radicals we rely on the protective benefits of antioxidants and fruits are one of the greatest dietary sources of these compounds. Antioxidants protect cells from the destructive nature of free radicals and for this very reason it is critical that we consume antioxidant rich foods and supplements. The Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University developed a test for measuring the antioxidant capacity of foods and supplements called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). The higher the ORAC score of that food or supplement the more free radicals can be neutralized. Scientists recommend we get between 3000 - 5000 ORAC units daily from our foods and supplements (19). The USDA suggests that consuming fruits foods with a high-ORAC value “may help slow the aging process in both body and brain.” (20). Consuming ORAC rich foods has been shown in studies thus far to: “raise the antioxidant power of human blood, prevent some loss of long-term memory and learning ability in middle-aged rats, maintained the ability of brain cells in middle-aged rats to respond to a chemical stimulus, and protected rats; tiny blood vessels capillaries—against oxygen damage.”
As mentioned previously one of the challenges we face is we neither consume enough ORAC rich foods like fruits and many the sources of antioxidants we get from foods leave much to be desired. For this reason it is prudent to make not only ever effort to eat more high ORAC foods but to supplement with an ORAC powerhouse fruit concentrate. Although not a replacement for consuming foods, they can be a wonderful compliment to them.