When examining the rise and fall of the buzzword “antioxidant,” it’s important to look at why these foods were so heavily celebrated in the first place. Açaí berries. Chia seeds. Green Tea. Quinoa. Avocados. These were all once touted as superfoods, loaded with antioxidants that were supposed to make you as healthy as possible.
As the buzz over antioxidants took off, expensive dietary supplements flooded the market, and restaurants eagerly added dishes loaded with so-called superfoods to their menus.
The Rise and Fall of a Trend
What were these antioxidants even alleged to do in the first place? Throughout the day, your body creates “free radicals” via the natural mechanism of oxidation. Oxidation occurs as you digest food and your cells extract energy from it. Free radicals can also be introduced to your body as you go about your day, such as when you inhale polluted air, get a whiff of second-hand cigarette smoke, or are exposed to radiation.
Antioxidant-rich foods were advertised as being able to help cleanse the body of these free radicals, which in turn meant lower chances of a wide range of ailments, such as cancer, dementia, and even the natural aging process. When people learned about this, they were instantly interested. Enthralled by the possibility one could lower their chances of illness by taking a simple dietary supplement, the market for antioxidant enhanced products took off.
While antioxidant-rich foods helped reduce amounts of free radicals in a lab environment, they were not found to be as effective when consumed by the public. Further testing revealed that while these foods do contain high levels of antioxidants, the bioavailability of them is poor. Our bodies have a hard time extracting the useful parts of these foods and putting them to work clearing out free radicals.
The Antioxidant Bandwagon
The antioxidant craze was also not helped by a slew of dubiously effective products that marketed themselves as antioxidant rich. Antioxidant enhanced foods like applesauce and smoothies flooded the market. It became hard for consumers to discern if these antioxidants worked and if they were even present in these products. The introduction of antioxidant-rich vodka by Absolut only worked to delegitimize the promise of these products further.
While no one will discourage you from a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, it’s important to recognize the limitations associated with the benefits of antioxidants. They may be healthy additions to most diets, as they are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but don’t count on them to reduce your chances of cancer or prevent wrinkles.