Dispatches from IFT Wellness 2012

Professor: Term 'antioxidant' should be banished from food labels

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Antioxidant, Jeff hilton

Dr Keen: 'We have to stop talking about the antioxidant property of food before it is consumed. These test tube results have no relevance.'
Dr Keen: 'We have to stop talking about the antioxidant property of food before it is consumed. These test tube results have no relevance.'
The term ‘antioxidant’ should be banished from food labels and replaced with more specific claims about the health benefits of the phytonutrients and other ingredients in question, according to one leading academic.

Speaking to NutraIngredients-USA at the IFT Wellness 2012 conference in Chicago this week, Dr Carl Keen, professor of nutrition & internal medicine at the University of California, Davis, said: “The word antioxidant should probably be banished from food labels – it‘s too generic, it’s so non-specific.

“I think over the next four to five years we will be increasingly taken to task for this. We have to be much more precise in our terminology. We need to know the mechanism of action for these phytonutrients.

That’s the way things are going in Europe​ [where generic antioxidant claims were given short shrift by EFSA​] and that’s the way I expect things will go in the US.”

We have to be more precise in our terminology

He added: “It’s no good saying fruit and veg are good for us. They should not all be lumped together. Maybe we should stop talking about five-a-day and be much more specific about which fruits and vegetables to eat?

“It’s like saying a mineral-rich diet is good for your bones. Well calcium and magnesium are, but what about arsenic?”

He added: “As for ORAC tests, I think they are useful for screening purposes as a first step in identifying potential candidates for further study, but that’s it.”

Cash pumped into in-vitro studies comparing ORAC values of different super fruits or other substances would be better spent on establishing which flavonoids and phenolic compounds and related metabolites actually gain access to appropriate cells in the body to exert biological effects, he said.

“We have to stop talking about the antioxidant property of food before it is consumed. These test tube results have no relevance.”

So should we talk about C-reactive protein?

So what kind of claims would be more meaningful? Will consumers get it if we ditch ‘antioxidants’ and start talking about flavanols and platelet aggregation, or inflammatory biomarkers such as C-Reactive Protein?

Yes, provided we explain what we mean, he said. “I don’t see why not. We could get quite specific about cardiovascular risk factors, for example.”

Consumers are confused about antioxidants

So what do the marketing experts think?

Speaking to us earlier this week following the release of a new report into antioxidants from Packaged Facts, Integrated Marketing Group co-founder Jeff Hilton said consumer awareness of antioxidants was very high.

However, understanding of the term was hazy, he said, a view supported by a consumer panel debate at Wellness 2012 that revealed widespread ignorance on the issue.

"Consumer awareness for antioxidants rivals awareness for omega-3's in my opinion", ​said Hilton. "In focus groups we see that consumers know antioxidants are good but can seldom if ever verbalize why or how they work in the body.”

However, ORAC was “basically meaningless as a measure since it has been so abused as a concept”, ​he said.

“Consumers have checked out of that discussion. Consumers just know that antioxidants are good and that they need to supplement with them in some form."

And the antioxidants to watch?  Alpha lipoic acid, Acai, L-glutathione, CoQ10 and Kona fruit extract...

Mangosteen, whole grains, sea buckthorn

According to Packaged Facts, which says mangosteen, yuzu, sea buckthorn and whole grains are the antioxidants to watch,US retail sales of products making antioxidant claims grew 8.6% to $64.8bn in 2011.

The strongest growth came from packaged beverages with antioxidant claims, with sales up 12.9% to $12.2bn; followed by personal care and cosmetics (up 12.7% to $3.92bn); packaged foods (up 7.3% to $48.1bn); and dietary supplements (up 6.5% to $610m).

The market for antioxidant products will approach $86bn in 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate of 6% over the next five years, predicts Packaged Facts.

 Click here​ to read more.

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