What is an ORAC Value?

Donn Saylor

Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value is a system used to gauge the antioxidant levels of various foods. It has become a major selling point in the marketing of vitamins, health supplements, juices, and certain types of food products. Though a definitive scientific basis for ORAC value has not been sufficiently established, a popular line of thought suggests that the higher the antioxidant capabilities of a food, the more powerful role the food plays in combating the free-radical theory of aging. ORAC value cannot be tested on humans.

Man lifting weights
Man lifting weights

It is thought that the buildup of free radicals in cells is a major contributor to the aging process as well as to various diseases and cancers. Antioxidants have a neutralizing effect on free radicals. Because of this, foods high in antioxidants may slow the biology of aging and be used as a preventative measure against disease. Supporters of ORAC value attest to the idea that the system can accurately measure antioxidant levels — specifically, the levels of helpful, naturally-occurring chemicals called polyphenols — and better inform the public about the appropriate antioxidant-rich foods to consume, popularly known as superfoods.

In the scientific process of ORAC value, a fluorescent molecule, combined with a radical generator, is assessed to determine the extent of any oxidative denigration. Antioxidants help to preserve the molecule from this type of damage, so the test gives an indicator of how well the molecule has been safeguarded. As a result, the health benefits of the food from which the molecule was sampled can be better determined.

Fruits, especially berries, possess a high ORAC value. Acai berries that have been freeze dried are estimated to contain about 161,400 units, a very large number on the ORAC scale. The goji berry also scores a high ORAC value, weighing in at 25,300 units.

Other types of food that boast exceptionally elevated results on the ORAC scale are herbs and spices. Fresh ginger and cumin have high ORAC value, as do ground cloves, which ring in at a whopping 314,416 units. Nuts, beans, and even unsweetened cocoa powder also possess impressive numbers on the ORAC value system.

Though supporters herald the advent of ORAC value, many scientists are quick to point out that there is no established industry standard for the measurements. Exactly how a food is grown and in what conditions could also impact the ORAC value, which means that two identical foods, cultivated differently, could each hold a different value. Also, food and vitamin manufacturers are bound by few restrictions when it comes to this subject and could easily exaggerate the ORAC value of their products.

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