Out with ORAC

Just last week someone asked EALM about ORAC. So here is the update:

Out with ORAC
By: Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

Photo Credit: mischiru via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: mischiru via Compfight cc

We’ve all heard it before: antioxidants are good for you. And the best way to get plenty of antioxidants is to eat a diet filled with fruits and vegetables. You may remember seeing fruits in the produce section of your grocery store toting signs stating their ORAC scores and wondered what it all meant. ORAC Value, or the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, is a measurement of the “degree of inhibition of peroxy-radical-induced oxidation by the compounds,”1 or in simpler terms, the “free radical scavenging activity against one type of free radical”2. The antioxidant capacity of foods varies due to a “variety of factors, such as cultivation, growing conditions, harvesting, food procession and preparation, sampling, and analytical procedures.”1


(as defined by the Stanford Cancer Institute)3
(as defined by the Stanford Cancer Institute)3


The Stanford Cancer Institute lists the following foods to be good sources of antioxidants vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E3:

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In 2007, a database was released by the USDA, consisting of 277 foods and their respective antioxidant activities.1 The goal of the database was for consumers to assess the sourcing of antioxidants in certain foods via the ORAC measurement. However, in 2010, the USDA removed the ORAC database from their Nutrient Database Laboratory, after finding that “the values indicating antioxidant capacity did not necessarily translate from test tube to human.”4 The USDA released a statement saying; “there is no evidence that the beneficial effects of polyphenol-rich foods can be attributed to the antioxidant properties of these foods. The data for antioxidant capacity of foods generated by in vitro (test-tube) methods cannot be extrapolated to in vivo (human) effects and the clinical trials to test benefits of dietary antioxidants have produced mixed results. We know now that antioxidant molecules in food have a wide range of functions, many of which are unrelated to the ability to absorb free radicals.”4


So the message is the USDA does not support using ORAC to choose your foods and or supplements. As with everything, we like to say eat and live moderately.





1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2010. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page: http://www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata/orac
2. “Grapes and Health.” Grapes and Health. Scattagua Growers & Shippers, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. http://www.sgs.us.com/GrapesandHealth-i-30-15.html
3. “Phytochemicals, Antioxidants, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute. Stanford University, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. http://cancer.stanford.edu/information/nutritionAndCancer/reduceRisk/phyto.html
4. “Related Topics.” Nutrient Data : Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 (2010). United States Department of Agriculture, 16 May 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=15866



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