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:

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 1.34.07 PM

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



What’s the Story with GMOs?

By: Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

Genetically modified organisms, or more commonly referred to as GMO’s, have been quite the topic these past few years. With Dr. Oz expressing his belief that GMO labeling should be mandatory and Whole Foods announcing their plan to label all GMO-containing products sold in their stores by 2018, it is no surprise that people are asking what the deal is with GMO’s?

What are GMOs?

According to WHO (the World Health Organization), GMOs are organisms that have had their DNA unnaturally altered. Genetic engineering is the act in which selected genes are transferred from one organism to another, occasionally between unrelated speciesi.


Why are they used?

Genetic engineering is used when growing crops. The benefits of growing GM foods have been found to be:

  • Greater durability
  • Higher nutritional content
  • Faster, more abundant growth, which leads to lower prices
  • Overall protection of the cropi

Are they safe?

This is a loaded question. You could get either a yes or no answer from many different people. However, there is a potential risk for both the environment and humans.

The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association reports that GMOs are present in 75-80% of processed foods in the United States. GMOs are primarily found in industrialized crops, like soybeans, corn, canola oil, cotton, and sugar beets, which are typically found in processed foodsii.

The USDA, EPA, and the FDA regulate GMO crops, however the FDA’s policy does not require any additional testing to prove safety when compared to non-GMO foods. In fact, many believe that long-term GMO consumption is associated with increased cancer risk, chronic illnesses, digestive disorders, and even food allergiesii. Although, the WHO states “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved”i.

The EWG (Environmental Working Group), recently calculated that the average American eats a strikingly high amount, 193 pounds, of genetically engineered foods annually. “We calculated that the average American annually consumes 68 pounds of beet sugar, 58 pounds of corn syrup, 38 pounds of soybean oil and 29 pounds of corn-based products, for a total of 193 pounds” of genetically engineered foods. These numbers were calculated based on the USDA’s findings that 95% of sugar beets, 93% of soybeans, and 88% of the corn grown in the United States are genetically modifiediii.

GMO Addoption US

“What’s shocking is that Americans are eating so much genetically engineered food, yet there have been zero long-term studies done by the federal government or industry to determine if its consumption could pose a risk health,” said Renee Sharp, lead author of the report and the director of EWG’s California office. “If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year or feeding that much food to your family, wouldn’t you first want to know if long-term government studies and monitoring have shown it is safe?”iii

Food for thought: what’s the difference between genetically modifying our plants versus naturally cross-pollenating them? We wonder if all of our food, whether it is a fruit, vegetable, grain, or meat product, is bred to be superior? If you think our food should be labeled as genetically modified, should we also label if it is naturally cross-pollenated or bred for optimal results? We would love your thoughts and feedback.


For additional reading:

World Health Organization’s 20 Questions on GMOs

GMO Crops vs. Traditional Plant Breeding


[i] “20 Questions on Genetically Modified Foods.” WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/>.

[ii] Ruhs, Barbara. “Update: GMOs in foods: GMOs–ingredients that have been genetically altered–are everywhere, from fast food to frozen yogurt, but are they safe? EN answers your top questions.”Environmental Nutrition 2013: 1. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

[iii] “Americans Eat Their Weight in Genetically Engineered Food.” Environmental Working Group. Environmental Working Group, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ewg.org/release/americans-eat-their-weight-genetically-engineered-food>.