Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity
Plants, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains - the food groups that form the foundation to a healthy life. We consume them every day; oblivious to the benefit they provide our body. We learned early on that nutrient-rich foods are responsible for processes relating to growth. They keep us healthy and happy. But how exactly are foods capable of preventing disease and what foods provide the most benefit for our busy bodies? The answer can be found at the tiniest of levels.
In the majority of foods we consume, specific bioactive components exist. These molecules are found in the vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and carotenoids of a given food source. Some of these agents, like antioxidants, have been shown to retard aging and work to prevent the onset of age-related illness. Each food has varying levels of antioxidants and protection. And it is here that oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) comes into play.
What is ORAC?
Developed by the National Institute of Aging, ORAC measures the antioxidant capacities of different foods. ORAC gives us an accurate method of measuring the overall antioxidant power of foods and supplements. Numerous foods have been tested to show how much antioxidant protection they actually possess. Many experts believe that there is a direct correlation between aging, disease, and diet. A high-ORAC value of foods consumed is theorized to slow the aging process of the brain and body, while preventing serious disease conditions from occurring.
Antioxidants are critical in our defense against free radicals. Free radicals are nasty single paired electrons that roam throughout the body's healthy tissue and look for other atoms to steal, or scavenge. They can occur naturally in the body, but are also obtained from external sources like pollution, radiation, smoke, and industrial solutions (e.g. herbicides). The problem with free radicals is that when they steal molecules from tissue, they end up oxidizing and destroying otherwise healthy cells. This cellular damage is thought to initiate disease as it continues with age.
Antioxidants can prevent this harmful process from occurring. If they are available, they donate one of their own electrons to bind with the free radical. This stops the electron-stealing action of the free radical and keeps healthy tissue in tact.
Where exactly are those free-radical fighting compounds found? They may come from the most unexpected of sources. According to the USDA, the foods with the highest ORAC value (in order of antioxidant content) are:
* Adapted from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 9, 2004. Accessed, 16 Dec 2007.