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What are ORAC Values?

Are ORAC values a better way to measure the total antioxidant capacity of foods or just another marketing ploy? Learn what these numbers mean for your health.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #244

Questions About the Validity of ORAC

Excessive amounts of antioxidants—especially from extracts or supplements--may actually be disruptive to optimal function. 

Meanwhile, there are big questions about the relevance of the ORAC values to human health. For one thing, this test is performed in a test tube. We don’t know how—or even whetherthese foods interact with free radicals in the body once they’ve been consumed. Foods like chocolate and olive oil, for example, are chockful of antioxidants called polyphenols. Put these foods in a test tube and they mop up free radicals like crazy. Surprisingly, however, they do not have much direct antioxidant activity in the body. 

Similarly, there’s no evidence that super high-ORAC foods or diets are super-beneficial—because the body can only use so many antioxidants at a time. Dr. Ronald Prior, an antioxidant researcher who worked on ORAC reports for the USDA, estimates that anything above about 5,000 ORAC units a day is probably overkill.  There’s even research to suggest that excessive amounts of antioxidants—especially from extracts or supplementsmay actually be disruptive to optimal function. 

See Also: Can You Get Too Many Antioxidants?

 

Although the USDA once hosted a table of ORAC values on its website, they have since taken this database table down, citing unanswered questions about the biological relevance of the ORAC values, combined with the potential for misunderstandings by consumer and misuse by marketers. You’ll still find health bloggers and food and supplement marketers waxing poetic about high ORAC values, but you don’t hear a whole lot about them from serious nutrition scientists anymore. I certainly wouldn't pay a lot of money for a food or supplement based solely on its ORAC number.

Antioxidants Are Just One Aspect of Nutrition

Keep in mind that, while antioxidants are certainly beneficial, they are only one of many aspects of good nutrition that deserve our attention. You can’t define the quality of your diet solely by its ORAC score.  If you’re eating a balanced and varied diet, including plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, your ORAC score will take care of itself. No superfruits or supplements required!

Check out Nutrition Diva's Secrets for a Healthy Diet for a simple, easy-to-follow guide on making the most of your meals.>

Pomegranates photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.