When you think of ORAC, think of another “O” word: octane.

Just like higher-octane fuel delivers more energy per unit to your car, high ORAC foods deliver more antioxidant protection to your body.

What is the ORAC Scale?

Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is simply a method of measuring the ability of a food to extinguish free radicals. Scientists refer to this as the “antioxidant capacity” of a food.

In the mid 1990’s, Dr. Ronald Prior, Ph.D., an antioxidant expert at USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University aligned with the team who initially published the concept of ORAC—physician and chemist Guohua Cao, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). And the ORAC scale was born.

How does the ORAC Scale Work?

ORAC tests challenge an antioxidant sample—blueberry extract, for example—against free radicals in a test tube. Researchers evaluate the sample containing free radicals as well as the isolated extract. The more the extract successfully negates free radicals, the greater the antioxidant capacity and thus the higher the ORAC score.

Limitations of ORAC

But all antioxidants are not created equal, the ORAC scale has its limitations and your own biochemistry factors in too. Here are several ideas to keep in mind to boost your antioxidant levels naturally:

  • Water Dilutes the ORAC Score: Don’t get “diluted” into thinking you should be eating more energy dense dried fruits just because they have a high ORAC score. While a raisin may concentrate the antioxidants in a grape, it also concentrates the calories and sugar too. The same is true for water-rich foods— like watermelon—whose ORAC score reflects low antioxidant content. Learn about the dangers of fruit here.
  • Some Like it Hot: In order to understand what ORAC scores really mean to health and disease prevention, it’s important to understand the differences between the types of antioxidants and how they work. Some are water soluble; some are lipid soluble. Some get stronger with heat while others shrink in their ability to quench aging free radicals at the very mention of a burner. We know the best preparation methods to maximize antioxidants and you’ll learn about them in our healthy cooking section.
  • Supplements Can’t Mimic Foods: Think you can pop a pill that will replace the unique antioxidant effects of a blueberry… a sweet potato… or green tea? Think again. Study upon study shows that the greatest antioxidant benefits come from foods in their natural state. Why? Because phytonutrients possess “synergy” multiple components working together to produce stronger, better effects than the isolated compounds do alone.
  • Antioxidants are Selective Specialists: You have a hair stylist for your hair, a manicurist for your nails, and a gardener for your lawn. You wouldn’t expect the yardman to paint a perfect French manicure or the hair stylist to groom your petunias. Antioxidants are the same. They are specialized. Some fight singlet oxygen free radicals; others are programmed to annihilate peroxyl radicals. Vitamin C, for example, may be most effective in the aqueous part of a cell. Vitamin E may be most effective in the fatty parts of the cell (including the membrane bilayer and mitochondria). This is exactly why it’s important to enjoy a whole foods diet that provides the entire antioxidant army.
  • There’s Antioxidant Variation Among the Same Foods: Harvest times, growing conditions, use of chemicals, season, temperature, soil conditions, ripeness and other factors can dramatically affect the antioxidant capacity of foods. Learn why organic foods have more antioxidants bang per bite.
  • Your Body Makes Antioxidants Too: Some of the most powerful antioxidant protection comes from inside the body. And while this protection does in fact come from foods, it’s not necessarily from the high ORAC foods that fuel the body’s free-radical fighting furnace. Learn how you can boost glutathione – your body’s master antioxidant and detoxifier.
  • A Healthy Gut Absorbs More Antioxidants: We can test the free-radical fighting ability of extracts in test tubes, but their behavior in the body can vary greatly. To maximize absorption of antioxidants, it’s important to cultivate the healthy bacteria in the digestive tract by enjoying high-fiber foods that act as prebiotics, as well as REAL lacto fermented foods including kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and  fermented dairy that act as probiotics.

The bottom line? Enjoy a wide spectrum of antioxidants from the cleanest low glycemic food sources available to provide maximum protection, health benefits and enjoyment!

ORAC Scores of Common Foods

Cloves, dried, ground 314,446
Cinnamon, dried, ground 267,536
Oregano, dried 200,129
Turmeric, ground 159,277
Sorghum, bran, black 100,800
Cocoa powder, natural (non-dutched) 80,933
Cumin seed, dried 76,800
Parsley, dried 74,349
Basil, dried 67,553
Curry powder, dried 48,504
Cocoa powder, dutched 40,200
Sage, fresh 32,004
Mustard seed 29,257
Pepper, black 27,618
Thyme, fresh 27,426
Marjoram, fresh 27,297
Rice bran 24,287
Chili powder, dried 23,636
Ginger, ground 21,867
Chocolate, dark 20,823
Pecans 17,940
Paprika, dried 17,919
Tarragon, fresh 15,542
Ginger root, raw 14,840
Sorghum grain, red 14,000
Peppermint, fresh 13,978
Oregano, fresh 13,970
Walnuts, english 13,541
Hazelnuts 9645
Cranberries, raw 9584
Pears, dried 9496
Savory, fresh 9465
Artichokes, boiled 9416
Beans, red kidney 8459
Beans, black 8040
Pistachios 7983
Currants, European, black, raw 7960
Beans, pinto, raw 7779
Plums, black diamond, w/ peel 7581
Lentils, raw 7282
Agave, dried 7274
Garlic powder 6665
Artichokes, raw 6552
Blueberries, raw 6552
Prunes 6552
Plums, raw 6259
Leeks, bulb + lower leaf, raw 5997
Soybeans, raw 5764
Onion powder 5735
Blackberries 5347
Garlic, raw 5346
Cilantro, raw 5141
Cabernet Sauvignon 5034
Raspberries, raw 4882
Basil, fresh 4805
Almonds, raw 4454
Dill, fresh 4392
Blackeyed peas, raw 4343
Apples, Red Delicious (with skin) 4275
Peaches, dried 4222
Apples, Granny Smith (with skin) 3898
Dates, deglet noor 3895
Strawberries, raw 3577
Peanut butter, smooth w/ salt 3432
Currants, red raw 3387
Figs, raw 3383
Cherries, sweet, raw 3365
Peanuts, raw 3166
Raisins 3037
Pears, raw 2941
Agave, cooked 2938
Apples, Gala (with skin) 2828
Cardamom, dried 2764
Apples, Fuji (with skin) 2599
Guava, white-fleshed 2550
Dates, medjool 2387
Broccoli, cooked, boiled 2386
Lettuce, red leaf 2380
Cabbage, red, raw 2252
Oat bran cereal 2183
Quick oats, dry 2169
Asparagus, raw 2150
Sweet potato, baked w/skin 2115
Chives, raw 2094
Cabbage, savoy, cooked, boiled 2050
Prune juice 2036
Guava, red-fleshed 1990
Bread, pumpernickel 1963
Cashew nuts 1948
Avocado, Haas 1933
Arugula, raw 1904
Oranges, navel, raw 1819
Peaches, raw 1814
Beets, raw 1767
Pears, red anjou 1746
Popcorn, air-popped 1743
Radishes, raw 1736
Old fashioned oats, dry 1708
Macadamia nuts, dry roasted 1695
Spinach, frozen 1687
Potatoes, russet, flesh + skin, baked 1680
Asparagus, boiled 1644
Mandarin oranges, raw 1620
Broccoli raab, cooked 1552
Grapefruit, pink, raw 1548
Onions, red, raw 1521
Spinach, raw 1515
Alfalfa sprouts 1510
Lettuce, romaine 1447
Lettuce, butterhead 1423
Bread, mixed grain 1421
Brazil nuts, raw 1419
Broccoli, raw 1362
Parsley, raw 1301
Grapes, red, raw 1260
Green tea 1253
Agave, raw 1247
Grapefruit juice, white 1238
Lemon juice, raw 1225
Onions, yellow, sauteed 1220
Kiwi, gold 1210
Extra virgin olive oil 1150
Grapes, green, raw 1118
Apricots 1115
Onions, raw 1034
Mangos, raw 1002
Salsa 1001
Peppers, sweet, orange, raw 984
Peppers, sweet, yellow, raw 965
Eggplant, raw 933
Peppers, sweet, green, raw 923
Beans, pinto, boiled 904
Kiwi 882
Bananas 879
Onions, white, raw 863
Chickpeas, raw 847
Peppers, sweet, red, sauteed 847
Cauliflower, raw 829
Lime juice, raw 823
Peppers, sweet, red, raw 791
Sweet potato, boiled w/o skin 766
Beans, green, sanp, raw 759
Nectarines, raw 750
Peas, yellow, mature, raw 741
Corn, sweet, yellow, raw 728
Orange juice, raw 726
Peppers, sweet, yellow, grilled 694
Tomato sauce, canned 694
Carrots, raw 666
Cauliflower, cooked, boiled 620
Pine nuts 616
Peppers, sweet, green, sauteed 615
Peas, green, frozen 600
Apple cider vinegar 564
Tomatoes, plum, raw 546
Peas, split, mature, raw 524
Cabbage, raw 508
Celery, raw 497
Tomato juice, canned 486
Pumpkin, raw 483
Lettuce, iceberg 438
Poppy seed, dried 418
Red wine vinegar 410
Tomatoes, ripe, cooked 406
Butternut squash, raw 396
Pineapple, raw 385
Cantaloupe, raw 315
Fennel bulb, raw 307
Beans, snap, canned 290
Eggplant, cooked, boiled 245
Honeydew melon 241
Summer squash, with skin 180
Watermelon, raw 142
Cucumber, peeled, raw 126
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About The Author

Kelley Herring, founder of Healing Gourmet, is a natural nutrition enthusiast with a background in biochemistry. Her passion is educating on how foods promote health and protect against disease and creating simple and delicious recipes for vibrant health and enjoyment.

Kelley Herring – who has written posts on Healing Gourmet.

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