The Healthy Choice, The Right Choice

After centuries of dormancy many Americans are rediscovering what native North Americans had known for a fact. Aronia berries are the perfect food for everything from curing common colds to aiding in digestion. Read below to learn more about this wonder berry from our past and why it's now making a comeback in modern diets.

Antioxidants are substances that prevent potentially disease-producing cell damage caused by free radicals produced when the body breaks down food, and by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.1,2 Antioxidant substances incude beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, anthocyanins, Vitamins A, C and E and are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables, and dietary supplements.2

In the search for optimal defense against free radicals, scientists have focused intensely on berry extracts. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that berry fruits have polyphenols with antioxidant capacity that powerfully targets numerous degenerative diseases, from cancer and atherosclerosis to impaired glucose control and blood lipid abnormalities.3-11

The most powerful antioxidant berries to emerge in recent studies contain a class of polyphenols (plant-based compounds) known as anthocyanins. These nutrients produce the deep red, blue, and purple pigments found throughout the plant kingdom. Fruits and vegetables bearing these colors—blueberries, cranberries, pomegranates, black currants, beets, acaí, and aronia berry—are especially rich in anthocyanins. Although present only in very small amounts, they are readily absorbed into the blood upon ingestion, where they initiate a physiological response in the body that quells free radical activity.12

The most up-to-date research indicates that anthocyanins confer a broad array of health benefits, including: inhibiting cancer cell growth and inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) in several cancer cell lines, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, enhancing glucose tolerance and lipid profiles, improving eye function, limiting cellular oxidative DNA damage. An 8-week, randomized, placebo-controlled study published in 2010 confirmed not only that they are highly bioavailable—they can also significantly increase levels of other beneficial polyphenols in the blood.12

In recent years, the acai (Euterpe oleracea) berry has been gaining popularity and attention due to its antioxidant propery.13 The fruit of the acai palm, the Acai berry, is native to South America and has become popular as a functional food due to its antioxidant potential.13 The edible fruit is round, black-purple in color, about 1-inch(25 mm) in diameter and contains a single large seed.14 Numerous studies have shown the benefits of acai berry in lowering cholesterol, pain reduction and improved range of motion in oseteoarthritis, cardiovascular, gastroprotective effects.14,15 In these studies, however, the acai berry is usually in the form of extracts, blends, or freeze dried form.

In one study, acai berry juice antioxidant property was compared with other berry genera such as blackberry, bluberry, cranberry, Concord grape juices and other beverages such as orange, apple, pomegranate juices, red wine, and iced tea beverages. This report revealed pomegranate juice had the greatest antioxidant potency composite index among the beverages tested and was at least 20% greater than any of the other beverages tested, in the following order: pomegranate juice>red wine>Concord grape juice>blueberry juice>black cherry juice, acaí juice, cranberry juice>orange juice, iced tea beverages, apple juice.16

But acai berry is not the only one making headlines. In recent years, a previously overlooked but highly promising berry swept into the picture and has been making waves in the field of antioxidant studies. This is none other than Aronia melanocarpa or commonly known as chokeberry.17,18 Similar to acai berry and other berries, the aronia berry has been researched in a number of studies by different institutions. Its potential benefits include antioxidant effects20, antimutagenic21,22, hepatoprotective23, anti-inflammatory effects 17,18,20, cardioprotective24,25, anti-diabetes26-28 effects.

The question is, which is the better berry for you? Acai berry or Aronia berry? A number of literature are available for both berries, comparing each with other berry genera. However, vis a vis, very little data is available comparing the two "superfruits." Even the available data is stll inconclusive and more rigorous studies, including blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials, are lacking in analyzing the benefits of acai berry and Aronia berry, by themselves and in comparison with each other.

In May 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture Agriculture Research Service released a list of ORAC scores. The ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity, is the standard index for determining the antioxidant value of various organic compounds. Developed by scientists at the US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, the ORAC test is considered one of the most sensitive and reliable methods for measuring the ability of antioxidants to absorb free radicals. While other analytic methodologies may be used, ORAC is often considered preferable because of its biological relevance to antioxidant action in vivo (in living organisms). It measures both the degree and speed with which a certain food inhibits the action of an oxidizing agent, then integrates these two measurements into a single value, producing an accurate assessment of different types of antioxidants of different strengths. The data were recorded in the following values: water-soluble or hydrophilic (H-), fat-soluble or lipophilic (L-), total ORAC and Total Phenol content.20,29

The ORAC value of a given food is proportional to its polyphenol content. Fruits and vegetables with a higher ORAC value—or richer color, or more pigments—have been shown to suppress free radicals more effectively than lightly pigmented foods. Scientists at the US Department of Agriculture advise that we ingest foods equivalent to 3,000-5,000 ORAC units per day in order to maintain optimal antioxidant protection in bodily tissues and plasma.20,29,30 It is important to note that dried foods have increased ORAC, an artificial result due to less water in the reference amount of food analyzed, meaning greater concentration of pigments. This is partly why dried ground spices have such high ORAC values (160,000 – 290,000 umolTE/100g).29,32

In the May 2010 ORAC Database, acai berry and Aronia berry (chokeberry) were among those listed. The database showed the following values for acai berry: Acai pulp/skin, powder form has H-ORAC 99,700, L-ORAC 3,000, Total-ORAC 102,700. For Aronia berry or chokeberry, the raw fruit has H-ORAC 15,820, L-ORAC 242, Total-ORAC 16,062.29 On quicklook, it seems that, acai berry is superior to Aronia berry.

But do not be decieved. The result presented for acai is in dried or powdered form, and we can infer that in fact, the ORAC values of the actual raw acai berry would be a lot lot lower, and thus not comparable to the high ORAC values of the raw and easily avaialable Aronia berry. At this time, there is little available research and sources of Aronia berry in powder form, and until then we cannot compare the exceptional ORAC values of raw Aronia berry to the processed acai berry. One article stated that based on studies, the antioxidant benefits of the freeze dried acai fruit and juice blend32 deteriorate quickly if the fresh fruit is not harvested and processed properly quickly after harvest so the level in the food consumed may be much lower than the theoretical values which come from the controlled laboratory studies.34

The Aronia genus (Rosaceae family, Maloideae subfamily) includes two species of native North American shrubs: Aronia melanocarpa (Michx.) Ell. (black chokeberry) and Aronia arbutifolia (L.) Pers. (red chokeberry). The fruits of A. melanocarpa have been traditionally used by Potawatomi Native Americans to cure colds. In the first half of the 20th century, cultivars of black chokeberry were introduced to the Soviet Union and other European countries, providing fruits used by food industry. At present, it is used mainly for juice, jam, and wine production, as well as an ornamental plant. Among other substances, the berries of A. melanocarpa contain anthocyanins and procyanidins, possessing strong antioxidative potential. Numerous health-promoting activities—namely, antioxidative, antimutagenic, anticancer, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, gastroprotective, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, radioprotective, and immunomodulatory—have been demonstrated for black chokeberry extracts by both in vitro and in in vivo studies.19 What is especially advantageous about the health benefits of the dark purple Aronia berry is how easy it can be grown in North America, they are a native species found from Nova Scotia all the way to Florida.35

Due to its extremely high levels of antioxidants, it has a wide array of use in different fields of medicine. It helps in fighting heart disease, reducing high blood pressure, controlling diabetes and high cholesterol, boosting the immune system and fighting flu and colds, preventing cancer, aiding digestion, and protecting against ulcers and hyperacidity.17-28 Synthetic medications and artificial preparations may not only have harmful side effects but are also heavy on the pocket. In today’s progrssive and fast-paced lifestyle, protecting oneself against illness and disease is essential in prolonging life and ensuring our health.

At this time, higher level of evidence studies and clinical trials are still needed to fully evaluate the potential benefits and advantages of Aronia berry as an antioxidant for use in cardiovascular and other diseases. In addition, future research on the development of different preparations of Aronia berry, including juice blends, extracts, powdered form would make allow greater availabiliy worldwide. In this age of health and wellness, the Aronia berry is a promise of a healthy choice -- the right choice.


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