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|
|Sorghum, bran, black||100,800|
|Cocoa powder, natural (non-dutched)||80,933|
|Cumin seed, dried||76,800|
|Curry powder, dried||48,504|
|Cocoa powder, dutched||40,200|
|Chili powder, dried||23,636|
|Ginger root, raw||14,840|
|Sorghum grain, red||14,000|
|Beans, red kidney||8459|
|Currants, European, black, raw||7960|
|Beans, pinto, raw||7779|
|Plums, black diamond, w/ peel||7581|
|Leeks, bulb + lower leaf, raw||5997|
|Blackeyed peas, raw||4343|
|Apples, Red Delicious (with skin)||4275|
|Apples, Granny Smith (with skin)||3898|
|Dates, deglet noor||3895|
|Peanut butter, smooth w/ salt||3432|
|Currants, red raw||3387|
|Cherries, sweet, raw||3365|
|Apples, Gala (with skin)||2828|
|Apples, Fuji (with skin)||2599|
|Broccoli, cooked, boiled||2386|
|Lettuce, red leaf||2380|
|Cabbage, red, raw||2252|
|Oat bran cereal||2183|
|Quick oats, dry||2169|
|Sweet potato, baked w/skin||2115|
|Cabbage, savoy, cooked, boiled||2050|
|Oranges, navel, raw||1819|
|Pears, red anjou||1746|
|Old fashioned oats, dry||1708|
|Macadamia nuts, dry roasted||1695|
|Potatoes, russet, flesh + skin, baked||1680|
|Mandarin oranges, raw||1620|
|Broccoli raab, cooked||1552|
|Grapefruit, pink, raw||1548|
|Onions, red, raw||1521|
|Bread, mixed grain||1421|
|Brazil nuts, raw||1419|
|Grapes, red, raw||1260|
|Grapefruit juice, white||1238|
|Lemon juice, raw||1225|
|Onions, yellow, sauteed||1220|
|Extra virgin olive oil||1150|
|Grapes, green, raw||1118|
|Peppers, sweet, orange, raw||984|
|Peppers, sweet, yellow, raw||965|
|Peppers, sweet, green, raw||923|
|Beans, pinto, boiled||904|
|Onions, white, raw||863|
|Peppers, sweet, red, sauteed||847|
|Lime juice, raw||823|
|Peppers, sweet, red, raw||791|
|Sweet potato, boiled w/o skin||766|
|Beans, green, sanp, raw||759|
|Peas, yellow, mature, raw||741|
|Corn, sweet, yellow, raw||728|
|Orange juice, raw||726|
|Peppers, sweet, yellow, grilled||694|
|Tomato sauce, canned||694|
|Cauliflower, cooked, boiled||620|
|Peppers, sweet, green, sauteed||615|
|Peas, green, frozen||600|
|Apple cider vinegar||564|
|Tomatoes, plum, raw||546|
|Peas, split, mature, raw||524|
|Tomato juice, canned||486|
|Poppy seed, dried||418|
|Red wine vinegar||410|
|Tomatoes, ripe, cooked||406|
|Butternut squash, raw||396|
|Fennel bulb, raw||307|
|Beans, snap, canned||290|
|Eggplant, cooked, boiled||245|
|Summer squash, with skin||180|
|Cucumber, peeled, raw||126|