An Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score is a test tube analysis that measures the antioxidant levels of food and other chemical substances. If a food has a high ORAC score, then it means the food is high in antioxidants. The antioxidant’s strength is its ability to eliminate oxygen free radicals. With the ORAC, a higher score means the food is better at helping us fight diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Foods with a high ORAC score may be able to protect cells and their components from oxidative damage. Oxygen radicals are chemicals that form naturally inside the body through the process of oxidation. Everyday functions such as digestion and physical activity produce oxygen radicals. Daily exposure to polluted air, rancid food and oxidizing radiation from the sun and electrical appliances also contribute.
An easy to understand example of oxidation is to imagine rust attacking metal. When the rust eats away at the metal, the metal starts to weaken and decay until it can no longer work. This is what happens to our body when free radicals attack it. Organs, cells and other parts of the body can be weakened by oxidation. This leads to diseases such as cancer, skin and heart diseases, senile dementia and osteoarthritis.
The ORAC test was developed by Dr. Guohua Cao, a chemist and physician. The ORAC score covers all the antioxidants in foods. Antioxidants cannot easily be measured separately, but the ORAC test can identify which nutrients are the important antioxidants. Combinations of nutrients found in foods may have greater protective benefits than each nutrient on its own. Many people obtain a number of their daily nutrients from supplements in pill or powder form, but in order to receive the best form of nutrients, it is essential to receive them from plant chemicals rather than just from supplements. There are certain types of plants that have a better antioxidant level than others, and the ORAC can measure these.
Different types of fruit and vegetables have different ORAC scores. The recommended “5-a-day” fruit and vegetable servings will give you an ORAC score of 1,750 units. You could pick seven fruits with a low ORAC level and achieve only 1,300 ORAC units, or you could pick seven with high values and receive around 6,000 ORAC units or more. A large handful of blueberries would give you a score of around 6,000.
Studies have shown that eating foods with a high ORAC score will raise the antioxidant levels in the blood by around 10 to 25%. The ORAC figure suggested by experts is around 5,000 units per day to have a significant effect on plasma and tissue antioxidant levels. Eating eight to ten servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables or dark greens will help achieve this level. More and more foods and supplements are beginning to state the ORAC score on their labels, and this should make it easier to find foods you like which are also good for you.