Claims about antioxidants
Antioxidants are groups of chemicals found in foods, especially fruit and vegetables, that help protect the body’s cells from the harmful effects of free radicals. The damage caused by free radicals has been associated with the development of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons, and is linked to the aging process.
Marketing literature for many superfruit juices refers to their superior antioxidant activity (compared with other fruits), as measured using the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay. For example, goji berries have 10 times and açai berries six times the antioxidant capacity of blueberries — or so it’s claimed. This might well apply to the whole fruit, but what about the juice products on sale?
We used the ORAC assay to determine the total antioxidant capacity (TAC, measured in μmol of trolox equivalents) of nine products; the results are shown in Juices compared. We then compared the results with the TAC of some common fruits*.
It turns out that if it’s antioxidants you’re after, you’re probably better off eating an apple, or many other more common fruit.
- You’d need to drink almost five 30mL serves of Tahitian Noni Juice to match the TAC of a navel orange (2540).
- Three 30mL serves of Xanberry Mangosteen Juice Plus would still fall short of matching the TAC of a cup of strawberries (5938), raspberries (6058) or cultivated blueberries (9019).
- And the TAC of the humble Red Delicious apple (5900 for one medium-sized apple) is roughly equivalent to ten 30mL serves of Himalayan Goji Juice.
* Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2004, 52, 4026-4037.
The hype for some superfruit products goes beyond touting their antioxidant capacity, and could leave you believing they’re nothing short of a miracle.
One marketing brochure for goji juice lists no fewer than 34 reasons to drink it every day, including to “enhance libido and sexual function”, “treat menopausal symptoms”, ”improve your memory” and even “inhibit tumor growth”.
And how about this from a promotional pamphlet for mangosteen. An unnamed doctor is quoted as saying: “In my opinion, the mangosteen equals or outperforms the following prescription and over the counter drugs”, and the pamphlet goes on to list 46 medicines including Celebrex (arthritis medication), Lipitor (cholesterol-lowering medication), Methadone (a painkiller that’s used to treat heroin addiction) and Valium (used to treat anxiety disorders).
It’s not surprising health professionals are concerned that people may be misled by this sometimes overzealous marketing, and buy expensive juice in the mistaken belief that it will act as a cure-all.
Of even greater concern is the potential for vulnerable people to be exploited — someone with cancer, say, who’s desperate to try anything that might help. Not only can unsubstantiated health and therapeutic claims give people false hope and lead to disappointment if expectations for recovery or cure aren’t met, but it may be dangerous, if a superfruit juice or product is substituted for prescribed conventional medication.
We didn’t come across straight pomegranate juice when we were doing our research, but given its popularity in the UK and the US (in the form of brands such as Pom and Pomegreat), it’s bound to be similarly popular here soon.
Just like other superfruits, ads for pomegranate juice refer to it as an antioxidant superpower. There’s some preliminary human evidence that the juice may help to reduce your cholesterol levels and keep your circulatory system healthy. However, it also appears to interfere with an enzyme that’s critical to the proper metabolism of many common medications. So if you take any drugs on a regular basis, check with your pharmacist or GP before you try pomegranate juice.
Where to buy superfruit products
Most superfruit products are still sold in Australia via a multi-level (network) marketing system. You can buy bottles of juice direct from distributors (or ‘independent marketing executives’), who hand out samples and marketing brochures behind promotional displays in shopping malls, healthfood stores and gyms, and earn commissions on sales. Superfruit juices and related products are also sold online.
You’ll pay anything from $40 to around $85 a bottle if you buy your superjuice this way. If you sign up as a member or become a distributor yourself, you’ll get a discount.