This buzz word is everywhere. What does it mean, and how can it help us stay healthy?
BY: DR. DEEDRA MASON, DIRECTOR OF CLINICAL EDUCATION AND RESEARCH
More and more we are seeing individuals, marketers and supplement providers utilize the term “superfood.” What does it mean? Since there is no official definition, let us agree that it means a food with a remarkable health benefit, or one that works to support multiple tissues or areas of health in the body.
ANTIOXIDANTS SUM THIS UP PERFECTLY
Like me, you probably want to believe that your superfoods can come from untainted whole foods. You want to believe that your balanced diet could provide such a prescription for optimal health. However, diet is only a piece of the puzzle. When we consider optimal cellular health or optimization, we need to look beyond diet and consider lifestyle.
QUALITY FOOD MEANS QUALITY CELLS
Your cells and their function are dependent on protein, fats, carbohydrates, water and trace minerals; therefore, quality food means quality cells. No one is arguing against the importance of diet; however, reality suggests your environment, your sleep and your exercise habits will generate a burden that diet alone cannot or will not overcome. As such, our cells may fail to completely overcome oxidative damage from our lifestyle or exposure to toxins.1 With this continued barrage of free radicals our cells will eventually allow progressive damage, limiting their function and how they communicate — and ultimately duplicate. All of this means we may need to take an approach beyond diet and consider the role of nutrient support.
ANTIOXIDANTS TO THE RESCUE
A 2014 study in JAMA Ophthalmology looked at ocular aging and visual condition in an otherwise healthy and nourished population. Looking at ocular health is an ideal way to establish total free-radical stress because the lens of the eye is particularly sensitive to oxidative damage.2 The lens of the eye is subject to significant oxidative stress from UV light, pollution and aging. Free-radical damage is linked to the development of age-related macular degeneration and decline of ocular function. An interesting component of the study was a look beyond uncontrollable factors such as age and environment, evaluating the benefit of offsetting external factors with dietary intake based on diversity of antioxidant content in foods. Additionally, the study looked at other modifiable factors beyond diet such as elimination of exposure to first- or second-hand smoking or regular pharmaceutical interventions like corticosteroids, both of which rapidly increase oxidative stress to the lens of the eye and lead to the formation of abnormal cellular adhesions called Advanced Glycation End products or AGEs.2
HOW CAN YOU ELIMINATE OR REDUCE YOUR RISK?
Diet should always be your first approach to well-being and healthy aging. In fact, food constituents and supplementation maximizing nutrients routinely found in research to optimize cellular health is a sound way to support the aging process and minimize the risk of age-related or environmental cellular decline.3 Research offers a ranking of many foods based on their nutrient density and antioxidant capacity. Total Antioxidant Capacity or TAC is the current way researchers look at the benefits of foods with high ORAC value. TAC, like ORAC value, helps the consumer and practitioner make food choices or recommendations because the value is based on total capacity versus looking at one natural constituent or one constituent’s benefit alone. Polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids, and essential amino acids repeatedly appear at the top of the ORAC list and subsequently with some of the highest TAC values listed for optimal cellular health. Research supports the capacity of these constituents to regulate and assist DNA repair, aid in vascular protection, affect healthy cellular signaling and more.3-7 Polyphenols, which are responsible for rich color or pigment in the skins of fruits and vegetables, are the powerhouses of the superfood category. It is no wonder high ORAC foods like cranberries, blueberries, pomegranate and elderberry are holding so much real-estate on the health food aisle. Current research and its positive findings make these “superfoods” or juices a simple step toward improved circulation, immune function, and general well-being.3-7
WHEN IS IT PRUDENT TO ADD TO YOUR HEALTHY DIET?
It is expected that we eat approximately 1 gram of polyphenols per day.8 That is only true if you eat a diet based on the colors of the rainbow, which many do not, making supplementation all the more important in certain populations without access to foods or resources. In addition, even if we have acceptable access to healthy food choices, we need to be an educated consumer. Processing methods such as sterilization, heating and even wrapping in plastic can be damaging to polyphenols. By and large when we want to determine what is meaningful to our longevity, consuming foods or utilizing concentrated sources of high ORAC superfoods through supplementation is not just prudent, it is necessary.
SOURCES: 1-Voeikov V: Reactive oxygen species: pathogens or sources of vital energy?, Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 12(2):111-118, Mar 2006. 2- Rautiainen S, Lindblad BE, Morgenstern R, Wolk A. Total Antioxidant Capacity of the Diet and Risk of Age-Related CataractA Population-Based Prospective Cohort of Women. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014;132(3):247–252.doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2013.6241 3-Nijveldt R et al: Flavonoids: a review of probably mechanisms of action and potential applications, Am J Clin Nutr 74:418-25, 2001. 4- Shamitko N and Halpner A: Emerging new ingredients for cardiovascular health, poly methoxylated flavonoes, plant sterols and pomegranate, NutriNEWS Douglas labs, 2005. 5- Diebolt M et al: Polyphenols modulate calcium-independent mechanisms in human arterial tissue-engineered vascular media, J Vasc Surg Oct:46(4):764-72, 2007. 6- Tang FY et al: Green tea catechin inhibits ephrin-A1-mediated cell migration and angiogenesis of human umbilical vein endothelial cells, Nitric Oxide Jun:16(4):442-7, 2007. 7- Kumar S et al: Isoliquiritigenin inhibits IkappaBkinase activity and ROS generation to block TNF-alpha induced expression of cell adhesion molecules on human endothelial cells, Biochem Pharma May 15:73(10):1602-12, 2007. 8- Katz D et al: The effect of diet on endothelial function, Cardiol Rev Mar-Apr;15(2):62-6, 2007.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.