Nowadays you see the term ‘antioxidant’ bandied about all over the place, from smoothies to juices and even regarding some foods. They are most commonly attached to the juice market however. Presently, many antioxidant drinks are now being touted as superfoods, just because they are packed with the stuff.
But now some ground-breaking research by a UK TV programme has revealed that antioxidant fruit drinks might not be all they are cracked up to be.
What are antioxidants?
So what are antioxidants and how does adding them to a drink supposedly benefit our health?
Antioxidants are chemicals that simply stop ‘oxidation’. This is a reaction that occurs when chemicals come into contact with oxygen (think rust, apples going brown) etc.
Antioxidants are also important because they help to ‘mop up’ free radicals.
Free radicals are chemically produced naturally by the cells in your body. They are harmful as they can damage DNA and this can then lead to cancer and other ailments. There are also theories that suggest it is the accumulation of free radicals in our bodies that accounts for how we age.
It is thought then, that by consuming extra antioxidants we can reduce the damage caused by free radicals and our health will benefit.
The UK programme Trust Me I’m a Doctor wanted to test this theory. They took a variety of antioxidant drinks, including one Superfood Smoothie, and tested them for the amount of antioxidants they contained.
- A fresh ‘Superfruit Smoothie’ from a juice bar
- Two brands of ‘Antioxidant’ smoothie
- A brand of ‘Superfood’ Smoothie
- Three different kinds of orange juice from concentrate (with and without ‘bits’)
The results were surprising.
In actual fact, the freshest Superfruit Smoothie had the lowest amount of antioxidants.
The next two branded smoothies has similar amounts to the three orange juices.
The Superfood smoothie, however, had three times more than any other.
So why did the branded smoothies fare hardly any better than the orange juices? It is known that one of the best antioxidants you can get is Vitamin C. This is found in abundance in oranges, hence why the humble orange juice came out near the top.
But what does this do to us when we drink it?
In tests, participants were asked not to eat any foods that contained antioxidants for 48 hours. They then drank one of the sample products and their urine was tested before and afterwards.
The results showed a sharp peak in antioxidants as soon as the participants drank the smoothie, but shortly afterwards the there was a sudden drop and the levels fell to below the norm. After 24 hours the blood was only just back to normal.
What is homeostasis?
This is because of a process called homeostasis. Homeostasis means ‘same state’, and is where the body maintains an equilibrium, controlling the internal conditions, such as regulating the temperature and the rise and fall of certain chemicals etc.
When the body experiences a sudden increase in antioxidants it then has to work to get these higher levels back down to normal.
So does this mean we shouldn’t drink healthy drinks such as juices and smoothies?
In the tests, the results did not show that the urine sample had flushed away the antioxidants so the body might have converted the additional extra antioxidants into other compounds that don’t have antioxidant activity.
So are antioxidant-rich foods and drinks good for me?
It is thought that the theory of free radicals and ageing is now wrong. In one experiment, high doses of antioxidants (in the form of vitamin C) were given to people exercising. Those who took the antioxidants did not get any fitter. This was thought to be because the antioxidants neutralised the free radicals that were signalling that the body respond to the exercise.
However, it is a fact that eating fresh fruit and vegetables is good for you, and not just because of antioxidants. Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, vital minerals and fibre that are essential for our wellbeing,
The occasional smoothie won’t do us any harm, but when you consider that some contain more sugar than a can of Coke, perhaps moderation is key.