Reviews of recent supplement studies seemingly convey bad news for antioxidants; however, the results actually could prove a marketing boon to antioxidant-rich foods.

Per an American Heart Association Scientific Advisory, antioxidant supplements in a Penn State study were found to be largely ineffective in preventing heart disease (one of the major benefits of antioxidant consumption). The Lancet recently published a review of 14 randomized trials with 170,000 participants; it found such supplements actually “seem to increase overall mortality.”

An Ohio State University study linked potential health hazards with consuming excessive amounts of the antioxidant beta-carotene; certain molecules that derive from beta-carotene can block some actions of vitamin A, the study found, as reported in the May 4 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Vitamin A is important in vision, bone and skin health, as well as metabolism and immune functions. In addition, a study published in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation reported vitamin E pills actually increase bad cholesterol in animal studies.

Why would such reviews potentially help manufacturers of antioxidant-rich foods? In an editorial accompanying the vitamin E study, Dr. Ronald Krauss, director of atherosclerosis research at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, noted, "If one wants to take advantage of antioxidants, which can have many health benefits, one should rely on eating foods that are rich in antioxidants and not rely on taking supplements to prevent heart disease."

The reason behind the results could be a matter of the nutrient content of the foods, themselves. The vitamins, minerals and phytochemical antioxidants in these foods may work together in synergy. Furthermore, several food ingredients have seen a recent burst in research supporting their antioxidant content.

Cranberries, in particular, have benefited from a wave of research. A Tufts University study found cranberry promotes urinary tract health, and a University of Wisconsin study showed women consuming one serving of dried cranberries per day for two weeks reported reduced urinary tract infections up to six months after the study. University of Florida researchers have demonstrated that compounds in cranberries can help prime the immune system for activity, while Washington State University research suggests cranberry consumption may have protective effects by maintaining cellular health.

Cranberries aren’t the onlyberries whose antioxidant content has a proven benefit. Harvard Medical School has studied older adult memory and exploredthe effects of blueberries (one or more servings) and strawberries (two or more servings). The study, published in the Annals of Neurology, found that women with the highest consumption of berries delayed their cognitive aging by as much as two-and-a-half years.

Recent new product launches at the Sweets & Snacks Expo may target a younger audience, but several were quick to highlight their antioxidants. Gimbal’s Fine Candies introduced Sour Gourmet Jelly Beans, 12 flavors made with real fruit juice and that promise to be a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C. Snap Infusion Supercandy Beans, described as a snack consumers can “feel good about devouring,” boast the antioxidant vitamins C and E, as well as B vitamins (for energy) and electrolytes magnesium, potassium and calcium (for fluid balance).

Elsewhere, Mars Inc. introduced its antioxidant- and flavanol-rich CocoaVia product at this year’s Natural Products Expo West.The company notes the stick-pack drink mixes bearing the CocoaVia brand will be available in Sweetened Dark Chocolate, Unsweetened Dark Chocolate, Summer Citrus and Cran-Raspberry flavors.

However, products touting their antioxidants are by no means confined to the confectionery segment. Kellogg’s Fiber Plus line has several varieties of Fiber Plus Antioxidants, with the most recent launch being Caramel Pecan Crunch. In addition to antioxidant vitamins C and E, it also boasts 24g of whole grains and promises to be high in fiber (providing 35% of the daily recommended amount). The new flavor joins other Fiber Plus Antioxidants varieties Berry Yogurt Crunch and Cinnamon Oat Crunch. 

From the May 29, 2012, Prepared Foods E-dition