Free Radicals and Antioxidants?
We are all made up of atoms. Atoms that have a full outer shell of electrons tend to be happy, peaceful and inert atoms. They tend not to enter into chemical reactions and enjoy a mellow life in your body. Acai berry participates in this happy transaction.
Atoms that do NOT have a full outer shell of electrons are unhappy and unstable. Something is missing in their life – and they very badly want to get another electron so they can be stable and inert. These unstable atoms are called – Free Radicals.
Free radicals tend to move quickly to try to steal an electron from whatever molecule happens to be around them. Of course, whoever they steal an electron from becomes a new free radical and the process is like a domino effect.
Free radicals are not evil or bad – in moderation. Our body performs many functions and there will always be some free radicals created. However, if the level of free radicals gets too high in the body, you can run into major problems. Numerous diseases and health issues have been linked to high levels of free radicals.
One of the more common types of free radicals are oxygen free radicals. These are oxygen atoms missing an electron. You know that rust you see on the side of your car – well the same thing basically happens inside our body. Oxidative stress is what it is called when oxygen free radicals start to cause damage in your body.
What causes Free Radicals?
Breathing, eating, moving – basically living! Yes, basically any stress we put on our body can cause free radicals. While obvious things like polluted air, smoking, stressful events and unhealthy foods can cause free radicals – many “healthy” activities can also create free radicals. Almost any type of exercise will put stress on our body – we all know the saying “no pain, no gain”. Well, all this stress on our muscles creates free radicals.
Antioxidants to the rescue
So, how do you turn a free radical into a harmless cell? You give the free radical the extra electron it so desperately wants. What substance can supply this extra electron? You guessed it – antioxidants. Antioxidants are any substances that prevent or slow the oxidation process. Remember, free radicals cause oxidation – and antioxidants prevent oxidation. Antioxidants work by donating an electron to a free radical so it becomes a stable oxygen molecule.
What is ORAC?
ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. ORAC measures the ability of just about any substance to subdue oxygen free radicals in the test tube. In short, ORAC is a lab assay that can measure the antioxidant activity of any substance and give it a number. The higher the ORAC number – the stronger the antioxidant properties of the substance.
National Institute on Aging developed the ORAC method and the US Department of Agriculture and Brunswick Labs have been instrumental in perfecting the ORAC assay procedure and testing various foods to determine ORAC levels.
While the exact science behind ORAC gets beyond the scope of this article, it is clear that if you want foods with greater antioxidant properties, you look for foods with high ORAC levels. The USDA recommends we consume 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units daily. In truth, 80% of the population is consuming less than 1,000 ORAC units a day. The USDA recommended “5-a-day” fruit and vegetable servings will give you an ORAC score of about 1,750 units.
Fruits and vegetables tend to have the highest ORAC values. Per 100 grams – Apples score a 218, Bananas a 221, blueberries 2,400. And what about fresh Acai? Acai has an amazing 5,500 ORAC score. More amazing, freeze dried Acai Berry actually has an ORAC value of over 50,000 per 100 grams.
How about Anthocyanins?
Have you ever seen beautiful purple flowers? How about a deep red grape or a bright red Fuji apple? If you answered yes (and if you said no – stop reading this article and go out and enjoy nature more!) then you have seen anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are flavonoid pigments that plants and fruits synthesize. Anthocyanins give plants and fruits their beautiful pigmentation – but it is not all about looks. Anthocyanins can acts as a sunscreen for plants and in fruits the bright color attracts animals which feast on the fruits and in the process disperse the seeds. However, the aspect of Anthocyanins that is of most interest in regard to the Acai berry fruit is their antioxidant properties.
Fruits (like the Acai Berry Fruit) that are exposed to strong sunlight face a tremendous amount of ultra violet light stress. This UV light triggers free radicals to form in the fruit. Fruits, such as the Acai berry, develop high levels of anthocyanins because they have very strong antioxidants properties and can quench the free radicals. Here is the interesting part – the antioxidant properties of anthocyanins are maintained even after they are eaten by another organism. This is why fruits with bright pigmentation tend to have the great ORAC values – they are loaded with anthocyanins! Yes, you guessed it – Acai berries have a tremendous concentration of anthocyanins.
The French Paradox and Anthocyanins
The French have a diet very rich in cheese, sugar, coffee, nicotine, sugar and white flour and the accessional salvia. With this type of diet you would expect the French to have a very high rate of heart disease, however, the exact opposite is true. The ability of the French to consume a heart clogging diet and yet have a very low rate of heart disease has been labeled the French Paradox.
Researchers now believe they have the reason for the “French Paradox” – anthocyanins! The French drink a significant amount of red wine and the the red wine grape, due to its anthocyanins is what is believed to be responsible for the very low incidence of heart disease. While red wine has a good quantity of anthocyanins, the Acai berry has over 30 times the anthocyanins as red wine.
Omega Fats – giving fat a good name
Let’s face it – fat is not a pretty word. Most people would think that the phrase “fat and healthy” is an oxymoron. However, when you start talking about Omega fatty acids you realize that the right fats can be very healthy and beneficial.
The three most common forms of Omega Fatty Acids are Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9. While it is beyond the scope of this article to go into the full chemistry of fatty acids (and we would certainly put ourselves to sleep just writing it), suffice to say that significant research has shown numerous health benefits to a diet high in unsaturated omega fatty acids. In fact, on September 8, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave “qualified health claim” status to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids, stating that “supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.” While that may not sound like much, for the FDA to allow any healthy claim on something that is not a drug is very impressive.
Why do you need to know what Omega fatty acids are? Because in our next article we will talk about the fact that Acai is an excellent source of Omega fatty acids and we just wanted you to know that is a good thing!
Wake up – the boring definitions are over! In case you slept through the above lesson – here is the recap… Free Radicals are bad. Antioxidant, Omega fatty acids, Anthocyanins and food with high ORAC values are good. Oh yeah, and the French tend to eat a lot of cheese.
Now that we know the general vocabulary used when discussing Acai Berry we can move on to looking at the specific nutritional makeup of Acai Berry and what makes it a super-food.