Antioxidants hype - should you believe it?

March 7, 2013 3:01:58 PM PST
The latest buzzword in supermarkets is antioxidants. These days you see it on all kinds of products. Consumer Reports looks beyond the hype to find out what you really need to know about antioxidants.

Blueberries are heavily marketed as a super source of antioxidants.

In supermarkets, you see the word "antioxidants" everywhere.

Snapple iced tea mix boasts "antioxidants." Tropicana Orange juice says it has an "antioxidant advantage." And even a bag of chips claims it "contains antioxidant power."

"Antioxidants are beneficial. They block the action of free radicals, which can damage healthy cells in your body and contribute to heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses," Dr. John Santa of Consumer Reports said.

But Consumer Reports' health experts say don't be taken in by packaged foods touting antioxidants.

"A manufacturer can add antioxidants to food, but that doesn't mean it's a good source for what you need," Gayle Williams of Consumer Reports said.

Take Kellogg's FiberPlus bars that say they are "rich in antioxidants, Vitamin E, and Zinc."

"You can get more vitamin E from just once ounce of almonds, and you can get more zinc from just three ounces of lean beef," Williams said.

And should you really focus on wild blueberries? Are they the "number one antioxidant fruit?"

"There is no one antioxidant 'superfood.' The best thing to do is eat a wide variety of foods that are naturally rich in antioxidants, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Those will give you the biggest benefit," Williams said.

As for antioxidant supplements, Consumer Reports says clinical trials of supplemental antioxidants haven't shown much real benefit, and even suggest some supplements could be harmful. So stick with food to get your antioxidants.