Antioxidants and ORAC Value explained

What is the capacity of your diet to absorb free radicals and prevent oxidation in your body? It’s probably pretty good if  you are eating foods with a high ORAC value. ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. This is all fancy talk for antioxidants, a term you are probably more familiar with.

Our need for Antioxidants

We need antioxidants in our lives to protect and maintain our health. The daily dose of chemicals we come in contact with (air pollution, herbicides/pesticides, clothing, detergents, plastics, hair and body care products) expose us to highly reactive molecules called free radicals. Free radicals must be kept in check and get neutralized as quickly as possible. A body overrun with free radicals ages more quickly, and is more prone to disease. Antioxidants are the free radical fighters, or neutralizers.

Our need for antioxidants has increased, but our actual consumption of antioxidants has decreased. Not long ago it seemed health professionals were recommending 3-5 servings of fruits and veggies a day. Now a days, many are citing that 10+ servings a day is what we truly need to protect and maintain our health.

Why so many? Well, not only has our pollution and chemical exposure increased in our modern society, but the quality of our food supply has decreased. The majority of fruits and veggies in our grocery stores are irradiated and picked before ripe to prevent spoilage and food borne illness. However, this also prevents the fruits and veggies from developing their full nutritional profile and potential. Also affecting the nutritional profile is the nutrient levels of the soil. Unfortunately soil today is very depleted because of our monoculture of farming.

How to get Antioxidants and high ORAC

So how do you get 10+ servings of quality fruit and veggies, that are high in ORAC value, and nutritionally dense? Look for superfood supplements. Typically the most concentrated ones that will give you the most bang for your buck, will come in powders you can add to water, juice, smoothies, etc. Look on the label for the ORAC measurement, and how many servings of fruits and veggies are concentrated into each serving of the superfood powder.

Look for ingredients like: Acai, Goji, Noni, Pomegranate, Mangosteen, Blueberry, Cranberry, Elderberry, Sea Buckthorn, Grape Skin and Seed, Lycopene, Bilberry, Rose hips, and Green and White Teas. Don’t over look essential oils that can be found in high quality products like flax, coconut, olive, orange, rosemary, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and clove – which has a higher ORAC score than Acai or Goji. Foods with high ORAC are also immune supportive, and are typically anti fungal, bacterial, anti viral and alkalizing.

Wait, what is ORAC?

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health developed a method that shows how quickly a food reduces highly reactive oxidizing (rusting) compounds, into harmless substances. The foods with the best reducing power per 100 grams earn the best ORAC scores.

Keep in mind that many health food companies have capitalized on the ORAC rating by going overboard promoting products claiming to be “high in ORAC”. Most of the time the ORAC values in supplements have not been independently validated and may mislead consumers. There are also flaws in ORAC measurement that make it hard to compare apples to watermelon. For instance the water content in a fruit or veggie will affect the rating, hence prunes can be measured as high as 14,000 ORAC and plums as low as 4,000.

Don’t get discouraged, ORAC information is still a valid piece of the wellness puzzle, and should be considered. The bottom line is that is if you are eating fruits and veggies, you are consuming antioxidants and high ORAC value foods, but you probably need to double or triple your daily intake for optimal health.

Consider supplementing with concentrated super foods mentioned above, and eat these surprising high ORAC foods more often: Prunes, Red Beans, Wild Blueberries (much higher than cultivated) Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans, Cranberries, Artichoke Hearts and Raw Cocoa.

And remember, that heating or boiling at high temps for long periods will reduce the ORAC value in all fruits and veggies. So eat more raw and steamed foods.

Photo Credit: cathe.com

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