Finding the Function in
By Kimberly Day
I cannot deny my love and fascination with food. Ever since I boiled my first bowl of water to make Jell-o, I've
been hooked. (Of course, my mother wasn't so thrilled when the plastic melted all over the stove!) Still, you can
imagine my delight when the market began to explode with "functional foods."
I have to admit that I was skeptical at first. Let's face it, if we ate the way we should (fresh fruits and
vegetables, whole grains, fresh poultry and seafood) instead of feasting on junk food, we wouldn't need "special"
food. And if our farming practices weren't so destructive, we wouldn't need to replace the nutrients we stripped
away in the first place. But this is the reality we live in, which makes functional foods exceptionally timely.
Putting the Function Back in Food
According to the International Food Information Council, "'Functional Foods' are foods or dietary components
that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition." These can include nutrient-fortified or enhanced foods
and beverages, dietary supplements, fruit or vegetable components being added to a food, or key elements of several
types of foods being extracted then combined.
Of all the different types of functional foods on the market, many are offered as beverages. It seems like
everywhere I turn, there are smoothies with a variety of different protein options, vitamin-infused waters, and a
plethora of juices and concentrates bragging about their high antioxidant levels. It is the last type of functional
beverage that interests me the most. I'm a huge fan of antioxidants. Antioxidants are the anti-agers of the
nutrient world, working to protect your body from free radical damage.
Every time you eat, breathe, or move, your body uses fuel created from the food you eat to produce energy. But
just as a car using gas to produce energy releases harmful by-products like exhaust, so, too, does your own body's
energy-producing efforts produce dangerous free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive forms of oxygen that are missing an electron. When they come into contact with
normal molecules, they try to steal an electron, damaging the healthy cell and its DNA. In fact, some estimates
show that every cell in your body takes 10,000 oxidative hits to its DNA daily!
Free radical damage has long been believed to be a risk factor of many of the chronic diseases that accompany
aging-including heart disease, eye degeneration, memory loss, damage from UV light, and cancer. Antioxidants,
however, gobble up as many free radicals as they can and deactivate them, preventing them from doing damage.
The Best Drinks on the Market?
Believing the amazing power of antioxidants, I went in search of the best of the best. As a true believer that
you get what you pay for, I bypassed the grocery stores and looked into the top-selling antioxidant drinks
available online and through relationship marketing. I found that three stood apart from the pack:
MonaVie, Xango, and Thai-Go. MonaVie is an acai-based drink that also contains
pomegranate, prune, pear, bilberry, cranberry, blueberry, grape, and kiwi, as well as a few other fruits. Their
marketing claims that MonaVie "delivers the phytonutrients and antioxidants you need to maintain a healthy and
active lifestyle." They go on to state that their freeze-dried acai powder "boasts an ORAC score of 1,027 - higher
than any other fruit or vegetable tested to date, on a gram for-gram basis." These statements intrigued me very
Next, I looked at Xango. Xango is a mangosteen-based drink that is rich in xanthones, a specific class of
compounds that are known for their antioxidant properties. However, I couldn't find anything on the company's Web
site indicating other ingredients, so I'm left to believe it is just mangosteen. As for marketing claims, Xango
declares that mangosteen contains "antioxidizing phytonutrients called xanthones that support your health."
Finally, I researched Thai-Go, another mangosteen-based drink that also contains noni, grapes, raspberries,
blueberries, apple extract, and several other fruits. It also contains decaffeinated green tea. From a marketing
standpoint, Thai-Go claims to deliver a "punch of antioxidant protection with a high ORAC value." They go on to say
that antioxidants, particularly one category known as bioflavonoids, "enhance vitamin C absorption and help
maintain collagen and capillary walls. They also aid in the body's defense system."
The Truth Is in the Testing
Right off the bat, I was struck that both MonaVie and Thai-Go referred to the ORAC value of their drinks, while
I couldn't find any mention of ORAC for Xango. I found this baffling. ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance
Capacity and is the accepted method of measuring antioxidant content in a food. To market an antioxidant drink
without a word about ORAC seemed strange to me, so I took my investigation one step further and sent all three
beverages to an independent lab for testing.
I chose Brunswick Laboratories to do the evaluation due to their strong reputation for specializing in
antioxidant testing. I had all three products tested for their water-soluble antioxidant capacity. The results were
MonaVie was found to have the lowest ORAC value, with a reading of 23,323. Xango wasn't much higher,
coming in at 24,480. But Thai-Go was off the charts at 51,939.
The Lesson to Be Learned
While I know that you can't believe everything you read, I have to admit that I was shocked by the discrepancy
in ORAC values among these drinks. All three are comparably priced and all three are pretty prominent in the
marketplace, yet that is clearly where the comparisons end.
After this little experiment, it became obvious to me that if you truly want to improve your health and get the
biggest bang for your buck, you need to do your homework. Read labels, investigate ingredients, and ask for
nutritional markers, such as ORAC values. You, your health, and your pocketbook are worth it.
Click to view pdf on ORAC Value of Thai Go.
Kimberly Day has written for several health newsletters and magazines, and has
recently completed her first book (co-authored with Dr. Susan Lark) entitled Hormone Revolution.
She also pens a free food letter entitled Food for Thought: Quaffs and Cuisine for Decadent Health.