Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity
Units that measure the antioxidant capacity of different substances are called ORAC. ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It’s a lab test developed by scientists at the National Institute of Health and Aging (NIH).
Testing attempts to measure the total antioxidant capacity of a specific food item or supplement or any substance by placing a sample in a test tube, along with certain molecules that generate free radical activity and certain other molecules that are vulnerable to oxidation.
After a while, they measure how well the sample protected the vulnerable molecules from oxidation by the free radicals. The less free radical damage there is, the higher the antioxidant capacity of the test substance.
With this kind of testing, researchers have a way of measuring the total antioxidant capacity of different whole food items rather than the levels of specific nutrients.
Because there are thousands of different phytochemicals this method of measurement detects real-life values that we will get from food with all of the synergistic effects between the various nutrients. This is also a way to measure different antioxidants in extracted forms like vitamin C or vitamin E or any other unique antioxidant compounds in plants. This method of measurement is a good way of comparing the antioxidant power of different whole food items and individual substances that we can find in different supplements.
Same food items can have different values.
One thing that we should keep in mind here is that the same food items can have different values depending on the manufacturer. If we grind, for example, cocoa bean into cocoa powder there is no protective outer layer any longer to prevent it from oxidizing.
The longer it sits in open-air the more it will oxidize and the lower will the ORAC reading be.
That is the reason we can see a range of different values in ORAC reading for cocoa, cinnamon, or any other item that can oxidize then for example beans that can sit on a shelf for a long time without oxidizing. As soon as the item is exposed to air, oxidation starts. This is the reason why you should never consume flaxseed oil for example.
Omega 3 oils are very prone to oxidation. If you grind flaxseeds and eat them immediately there would be a lower level of oxidation. If you like to blend something into a smoothie the level of oxidation caused by blending can destroy a large number of antioxidants in food. Vacuum blenders are a new way of blending food in order to preserve the nutrients in them. Masticating juicers that use a form of the press to extract juice will have juice with a higher antioxidant value than regular juice. That is the reason that we can see a big difference in the same food items tested because of the different methods of manufacturing.
Some items may seem low on the ORAC scale but are actually not.
Also, some items may seem low on the ORAC scale but are actually not. For example, watermelon has a relatively low value but that is because it is mostly just water.
For the same reason dry fruits will have a much higher rating than the same fresh fruit because they are much more concentrated.
Fresh fruit will have higher water content and therefore lower ORAC values.
Spices are another example. Spices are dry and therefore will have in a gram of dry weight higher ORAC value than the same fresh herb that has higher water content. Spices and herbs are one of the most antioxidant-rich products and some are exceptionally high. Also are very low in calories.
Some items may seem high on the ORAC scale but are actually not.
Also, we have to take into account the amounts of specific foods that we can eat. Spices are extremely potent in antioxidant capacity but we can only eat small amounts of them. One food item can be low on an ORAC scale but when we see in real life how much of that food is consumed then it might be actually a good source of antioxidants. It all depends on specific foods. We can eat a handful of walnuts with no problem but eating a handful of cloves is difficult.
We can analyze an antioxidant per calorie consumed as well.
Per serving bases nuts have more antioxidants than cloves. But then again, nuts are full of calories. We can analyze an antioxidant per calorie consumed as well.
The general rule and the main rule is that animal products including dairy, all types of meat, and eggs have zero or minuscule amounts of antioxidants and are pro-inflammatory. Only plant foods have measurable ORAC values and not all plants are made equal.
Usual antioxidant intake in the U.S.
The usual antioxidant intake in the U.S. diet is between 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units per day.
40,000-50,000 units a day may be needed to have a significant effect on antioxidant levels and provide adequate protection from all sources of free radical damage.
Antioxidants play a crucial role in your health by levering free radical damage and neutralizing different toxins and lowering inflammation.
It is almost unbelievable how bad the American diet is. When your main source of antioxidants is coffee, you know that you have a serious problem. Just one hundred grams of raw cocoa powder have for example around 95,500 units, but some part of that is lost during heating when processing it into cocoa powder you find in stores. But when you ask big brother The United States Department of Agriculture, previously a publisher of ORAC data these values have no nutritional significance.
In 2012 USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) removed the USDA ORAC Database for Selected Foods from the NDL website due to “mounting evidence” that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health.
Do not worry about it. Just go and eat oil, sugar, meat, dairy, and refined flour. USDA probably has no “mounting evidence“ that sugar and fat in different processed food products are bad either. The UK FSA and the FDA recommend “5 a day” of fruit and vegetable servings, which gives an approximate ORAC score of 3500. It’s all just a joke and even worse, deliberate conspiracy. That is why in recent years the industry has tried to do some strange experiments like trying to add blueberry extract into the meat. And when we look into all studies done on antioxidants, there are tens of thousands literary tens of thousands double-blind placebo controls clinical trials so far. We can just look into curcumin studies for example (yellow antioxidant pigment from turmeric powder) and we can see that it kills cancer cells better than leading chemotherapy drugs with no side effect except longevity.
Because curcumin and other phytochemicals are hard to absorb USDA will use this as an excuse for why phytochemicals don’t do anything and why they removed recommendations for ORAC requirement in the diet. However, they do absorb just not in a 100 percent manner for example adding just a pinch of black pepper into the turmeric to create a mix will increase curcumin absorption from turmeric tenfold and you do not even need to buy curcumin supplements, especially because there are other antioxidants in turmeric as well. For example, beta-carotene is a pigment, antioxidant, and just another phytochemical and needs some sort of fat to get absorbed but that does not mean it is not absorbed completely because it will mean we will all be dead from vitamin a deficiency (your body makes it from beta-carotene). However, again industry and government have the interest to fool you. They find some excuses and do studies and everything else they can use. This just shows how corrupted the US Government in reality is, and what lengths will they go to confuse and abuse its citizens for the industry interest. You can read about fiber, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and nutrient density in correlated articles.
The first database of ORAC values was released by USDA in 2007 and it covered 277 food items. Then in 2010, the research was published that took 8 years to complete and included the antioxidative value of 3149 food items (1). They measured every food, every beverage, and every supplement they can find. This was one of the most important studies ever done in the field of nutrition. It is important because it has real-life value for a regular person that is going to a market because it can guide regular shopping decisions we make all the time. You can look up the entire compiled ORAC database in the table. I compiled the ORAC values myself directly from available research so the values might not be 100 percent correct. We can search the database for every single food item now but most importantly, we can get some general rules out of it.
The first rule.
The first rule that this study found was that the average ORAC value for animal-based foods is almost nothing. On average plant foods have more than 60 times more antioxidants than animal-based foods if we count all of the “superfood” items and herbs and extracts.
In the animal kingdom, for comparison, the highest value is ox liver at 710. Actually, there is one animal kingdom food item that has much more antioxidants and that is human breast milk with a score of 2030. On average eggs are just 40, dairy 140, fish 110, meat and meat products 310 and chicken is 230. To compare let’s look at the worst of the plant kingdom, cucumber raw without peel at 140, iceberg lettuce at 438, and watermelon at 142. Legumes are averaging 480, grains at 340, vegetables 800 but then nuts and seeds have an average of 4570, berries and berry products 9860, spices and herbs 29020 and the highest category is herbal/traditional plant medicine with an average rating of 91720.
“The results here uncover that the antioxidant content of foods varies several thousand-fold and that antioxidant rich foods originate from the plant kingdom while meat, fish and other foods from the animal kingdom are low in antioxidants. Comparing the mean value of the ‘Meat and meat products’ category with plant based categories, fruits, nuts, chocolate, and berries have from 5 to 33 times higher mean antioxidant content than the mean of meat products. Diets comprised mainly of animal-based foods are thus low in antioxidant content while diets based mainly on a variety of plant-based foods are antioxidant rich, due to the thousands of bioactive antioxidant phytochemicals found in plants which are conserved in many foods and beverages.“
Statistical descriptives of the Antioxidant Food Table and individual categories.
|Antioxidant content in mmol/100 g|
|Plant based foods||1943||11.57||0.88||0.00||2897.11|
|Animal based foods||211||0.18||0.10||0.00||1.00|
|Berries and berry products||119||9.86||3.34||0.06||261.53|
|Chocolates and sweets||80||4.93||2.33||0.05||14.98|
|Desserts and cakes||134||0.45||0.20||0.00||4.10|
|Fats and oils||38||0.51||0.39||0.19||1.66|
|Fish and seafood||32||0.11||0.08||0.03||0.65|
|Fruit and fruit juices||278||1.25||0.69||0.03||55.52|
|Grains and grain products||227||0.34||0.18||0.00||3.31|
|Herbal/traditional plant medicine||59||91.72||14.18||0.28||2897.11|
|Infant foods and beverages||52||0.77||0.12||0.02||18.52|
|Meat and meat products||31||0.31||0.32||0.00||0.85|
|Miscellaneous ingredients, condiments||44||0.77||0.15||0.00||15.54|
|Mixed food entrees||189||0.19||0.16||0.03||0.73|
|Nuts and seeds||90||4.57||0.76||0.03||33.29|
|Poultry and poultry products||50||0.23||0.15||0.05||1.00|
|Soups, sauces gravies, dressing||251||0.63||0.41||0.00||4.67|
|Spices and herbs||425||29.02||11.30||0.08||465.32|
|Vegetables and vegetable products||303||0.80||0.31||0.00||48.07|
|Vitamin and dietary supplements||131||98.58||3.27||0.00||1052.44|
The second rule.
The second rule that we need to consider is that there is a wide range of values even for plant foods.
It ranges from zero to 2,897,110 μmol TE/100g for the number one on the list. That is almost 3 million in value.
Plants are good for health and we should eat our fruits and veggies. The problem is that we don’t want to do it. And even if we do eat vegetables, not all vegetables are made equal. If we have to compare kale with cucumbers, kale is a clear win. Some plants have more phytochemicals and are much more nutritious than others. The problem is that usually even when people chose fruits and vegetables, they chose the less nutritious ones.
Potatoes, cucumbers, Iceberg lettuce, bananas instead of sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, berries, and spices.
The third rule.
Supplemental antioxidants are not a substitute for a bad diet with a nonexistent ORAC score even if it is whole food plant-based diet, learn your ORAC values.
There is no wonder cure or substitute for a bad diet, there are only more potent supplemental antioxidant food sources like amla, turmeric, cacao, hibiscus, or berries… Always take whole food sources of antioxidants before supplemental extracted forms because of the phytochemical synergies. There are only a few supplemental antioxidants that are proven to be effective and safe like liposomal vitamin C, curcumin, or astaxanthin.
The fourth rule.
A higher ORAC score determined from the test tube may not mean higher antioxidant activity in our body.
Some antioxidants have low bioavailability. Science has gone a long way but still, consumers can’t learn about the bioavailability of every single phytochemical in existence. This is a reason why diversity in nutrition is key. Some plants have very unique and beneficial phytochemicals even if they are not high on the ORAC list. Sulforaphane is a good example of this.
It is possible to investigate how food affects our antioxidant status by measuring the antioxidant capacity in our blood. One study (3) conducted by researchers at the USDA checked the AOC level of volunteers after consuming blueberries, cherries, dried plums, and other high-antioxidant fruits. Interestingly, they found that consumption of dried plums or dried plum juice did not alter antioxidant capacity in the blood.
Also, a big chunk of phytochemicals is not stable during cooking. Vitamin C is an example of this. If you see vitamin C on the label of orange juice in the store it is artificially added after processing. All juices need to be pasteurized by law to prevent bacterial infections. This is one of the reasons why some proponents insist on a raw food diet as a more natural and more nutritious type of diet. On another hand, some phytochemicals will have an increase in bioavailability after cooking. An example of this would be lycopene from tomatoes.
If you don’t want to science every food synergy and bioavailability of every single phytochemical as a consumer you can just consume different types of high antioxidant-rich foods with each meal. This is recommended in order to prevent periods of postprandial (post-meal) oxidative stress.
At this point, this line of scientific research is well established and well accepted but only in the scientific community that is doing them for the interest of the pharmaceutical industry. You will be able to find all of this on the PubMed website but outside of the narrow scientific community, nobody is talking. The regular public will hear something here and there with no real awareness. You reading this might be in less than one percent of the population. When you ask a medical establishment, they will tell a completely different story.
In accepted health recommendations pushed by physicians, there is no room for antioxidants.
The medical establishment doesn’t want people to know this and will argue that antioxidants are of no major importance for health and that they are not vitamins and that there is no need for RDA for antioxidant or phytochemical consumption. We don’t have public awareness of phytochemical importance and regular science will tell people everything they can just to confuse and undermine awareness.
They will not talk about antioxidants, they will not enforce RDA in the food pyramid, and will do anything to confuse people on purpose. They will use half-truths and the entire database of ORAC values had been removed from the USDA website.
How much do we need?
The story they impose is that the body can effectively only use 3000-5000 ORAC units per day and that any more is useless. Any more than this (i.e. with mega-dosing in supplemental form or eating antioxidant-rich food) seems to be of no added benefit and “excess” is most likely excreted by the kidneys. A good example of this is, for example, a statement from Dr. Ronald Prior of the US Department of Agriculture Research Service at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts that is quoted to have said:
“A significant increase in antioxidants of 15-20% is possible by increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in ORAC value. However, to have a significant impact on plasma and tissue antioxidant capacity one can only meaningfully increase one’s daily intake by 3000-5000 ORAC units. Any greater amount is probably redundant. That is because the antioxidant capacity of the blood is tightly regulated. Thus, there is an upper limit to the benefit that can be derived from antioxidants. Taking in 25000 ORAC units at one time would be no more beneficial than taking in a fifth of that amount. The excess is simply excreted by the kidneys”.
They are just lying to you. There are water-soluble antioxidants that can be removed by the kidneys. A similar story is with vitamin C and that is correct. If you take too much vitamin C excess will be removed but Dr. Ronald somehow forgets about the fact that not all antioxidants are water-soluble.
Oil-soluble substances cannot be removed through the kidneys. Any excess of them will bioaccumulate and will offer long-lasting protection. A visual example of this would be carotenemia.
And not just that.
Water-soluble antioxidants do their job of lowering inflammation and neutralizing free radicals before removal as well.
I will analyze later in this chapter just how much antioxidants we really need but this recommendation by people that have Ph.D. s and six-figure salaries is not from ignorance. They have a deliberate agenda to confuse people. They want you to give your entire income on chemotherapy and spend all of your money on drugs, therapies, animal products, and other junk food. Healthy people that eat vegetables are not good customers.
Because there is no “official” daily recommended intake of ORAC units, you will see various researchers suggest an optimal intake to be only 3000-5000 ORAC units per day, and many physicians will not recommend antioxidant-rich diets at all. They will tell their patients absolutely nothing about thousands and thousands of studies done on a topic and will usually just suggest losing weight and physical exercise with a line of prescribed medicine as a standard line of treatment. And this is not by accident. Even the USDA has come up with a suggested intake of 5000 ORAC units per day. The UK FSA and the FDA recommend “5 a day” of fruit and vegetable servings, which gives an approximate ORAC score of 3500. It is all just a joke and even worse, a deliberate conspiracy. So, what real scientific research that is available has to say about it? This would be covered in the upcoming article.
- We depend on antioxidant phytochemicals, two of them are vitamins for us, vitamin C and vitamin E.
- Units that measure the antioxidant capacity of different substances are called ORAC. ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity.
- Same food items can have different values depending on the manufacturer because of the different methods of manufacturing.
- As soon as the item is exposed to air, oxidation starts.
- Some items may seem low on the ORAC scale but are not because of the high water content.
- We have to take into account the amounts of specific foods that we can eat.
- We can analyze an antioxidant per calorie consumed as well.
- Not all plants are made equal.
- In 2010, the research was published that took 8 years to complete and included the antioxidative value of 3149 food items.
- ORAC Database is important. It has real-life value for a regular person that is going to a market because it can guide regular shopping decisions we make all the time.
- In 2012 USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) removed the USDA ORAC Database for Selected Foods from the NDL website due to “mounting evidence” that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health.
- The main rule this study found is that animal products including dairy, all types of meat, and eggs have zero or minuscule amounts of antioxidants and are pro-inflammatory.
- The second rule that we need to consider is that there is a wide range of values even for plant foods.
- The third rule: Supplemental antioxidants are not a substitute for a bad diet with a nonexistent ORAC score even if it is whole food plant-based diet, learn your ORAC values.
- The fourth rule: Higher ORAC score determined from the test tube may not mean higher antioxidant activity in our body.
- A big chunk of phytochemicals is not stable during cooking.
- The usual antioxidant intake in the U.S. diet is between 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units per day.
- 40,000-50,000 units a day may be needed to have a significant effect on antioxidant levels and provide adequate protection from all sources of free radical damage.
- Always take whole food sources of antioxidants before supplemental extracted forms because of the phytochemical synergies.
- There is no wonder cure or substitute for a bad diet, there are only more potent supplemental antioxidant food sources like amla, turmeric, cacao, hibiscus, astaxanthin, or berries…
- Currently, MegaHydrate is the most potent dietary antioxidant known to science (synthetic).
- The most potent natural antioxidant known to science is Astaxanthin.
- The most potent and most consumed dietary antioxidant is curcumin.
- Today there is no “official” daily recommended consumption of ORAC units.
- Various researchers suggest an optimal intake to be only 3000-5000 ORAC units per day, and many physicians will not recommend antioxidant-rich diets at all.
- The UK FSA and the FDA recommend “5 a day” of fruit and vegetable servings, which gives an approximate ORAC score of 3500.
Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 3” [Milos Pokimica]
- The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-9-3.
- Lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities of common foods in the United States doi: 10.1021/jf049696w.
- Plasma Antioxidant Capacity Changes Following a Meal as a Measure of the Ability of a Food to Alter In Vivo Antioxidant Status doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2007.10719599
- Blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry extracts reduce the formation of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines in fried camel, beef and chicken meats doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2020.10785
- Postprandial metabolic events and fruit-derived phenolics: a review of the science doi: 10.1017/S0007114510003909.
- Can Meat and Meat-Products Induce Oxidative Stress? https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox9070638
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Milos Pokimica is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, medical health and nutrition writer, and nutritional science advisor. Author of the book series Go Vegan? Review of Science, he also operates the natural health website GoVeganWay.com
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