Thursday, November 3, 2011


Antioxidants are to day more or less recognized as the saviors of mankind from many non-infectious diseases like cancer. Such a situation has come about after it was found by many scientific studies about the ability of antioxidants to scavenge free radicals from the body. Oxy radicals generated in the human body due to various metabolic reactions, if not removed promptly, are believed to cause damage to DNA which can cause various types of cancers affecting different organs and other vital functions. It is believed that fruits provide high levels of antioxidants, mainly in the form of poly phenols and a generous consumption of these protective foods can keep many diseases away. The latest dietary recommendations suggest that almost half the plate of foods consumed every day should be contributed by fruits and vegetables.

It is believed that human body makes its own anti oxidants to neutralize the day to day generation of oxy radicals there by protecting it from many serious diseases but modern day life contributes a much larger levels of oxy radicals which need more anti oxidants to make them innocuous. Optimum health to day means ensuring taking adequate amounts of anti oxidants through daily diet. This naturally raises the question regarding the relative efficiency of various food sources in providing high levels of antioxidants to the body. Poly phenols which are natural constituents of many foods consumed daily are considered to be of efficient antioxidant credentials though there is always the question of their absorption across the GI tract under normal conditions. For these antioxidants to be effective they are required to be delivered to the cells in their active form and it is here where some confusion still exists. If a product claims it is rich in antioxidants, it may not be telling a lie but if the claim refers to health advantages by consuming them, same may not be tenable because of uncertainties regarding the actual absorption and delivery to the cells for making them work.

ORAC Value proposed by the National Institute on Aging under National Institution of Health, Bethesda, USA is widely used to assess the efficacy of foods as a source of antioxidants. ORAC value simply predicts the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity of a substance through laboratory analyzes and is widely used in estimating the antioxidant value of different foods. It was the USDA which first brought out a compendium of foods with different ORAC values to help the consumers to select antioxidant rich foods in their daily diet. Recently the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology in Chile has brought out the ORAC values of 140 different fruits grown all over the world, besides providing useful information about other nutrients present in them. Unfortunately the world has not reached a stage where ORAC values can be used as a reliable indicator for making legally health claims by different food resources. But it till serves the purpose of helping the consumers to select the ones with highest ORAC value for his continued well being. 

Many people may be unaware that Sorghum, considered a poor man's staple in many countries is a rich source of antioxidants boasting of a high ORAC value of 45,400! Compare this with the ORAC value of 290,285 for a spice like Cloves or 131, 420 for Cinnamon or 127,068 for Turmeric. The much ridiculed Curry Powder of India can boast of an ORAC value of 48, 504. Some times it is intriguing to see many published scientific papers touting about high ORAC values for fruits like Blackberries, Blueberries and other berries like Calafate, Macqui, Murtilla etc because these are not produced in substantial quantities to be available year around, if the demand rises rapidly. Besides they are not consumed in big quantities to deliver high levels of antioxidants. On the other hand take the case of foods like Sorghum which is taken to meet bulk of the energy needs in some parts of the world and the impact can be quite high. Of course a good balanced diet containing different sources of antioxidants like Berries and other colored fruits and vegetables, grains like Sorghum, Spices like Turmeric, Cumin, Black Pepper etc will always be a sure bet against accumulation of Oxy radicals in the body as they can effectively scavenge them regularly. 

The Compilations by the USDA and the Chile Institute are considered a great service to humanity because of the educational value they have on the food consumption behavior of the population at large. With such readily available data, industry must be encouraged to use ORAC value of every food marketed by it and such a step can hope to tide over the increasing wave of Cancer and other diseases in the coming years.


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