Orac Scale – What is It?

Most of us don’t dig too much into the science of our food. We eat what we are supposed to eat, what tastes good and sometimes, what we are told to eat. But we rarely do our own research to back up any claims made about the food we eat.

But the ORAC Scale is something that even the layperson can understand. If you are serious about getting the right amount of antioxidants in your body, understanding how the scale works is essential.

What is ORAC?

ORAC stands for “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity”, and is really nothing more than a way to measure the antioxidant capacity of certain foods. Understand that this isn’t so much a measurement of how much antioxidant power food packs, but rather how much of the antioxidants can be absorbed into the body.

The scale was developed by the United States’ National Institute on Aging, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Although it was developed by a sub-group of the National Institute on Aging, the scale is not endorsed or approved by the NIH (National Institutes of Health).

Nonetheless, the scale for measuring antioxidant capacity of food is being taken seriously because the scale was recently used by the United States Department of Agriculture, which included an ORAC database of foods on its home page.

How does the ORAC work?

Using a scientific formula, the ORAC scale determines the antioxidant level of certain foods, but does so using a measurement of 100 grams of the food, not one traditional serving.

So using this formula, many foods will actually have less antioxidant benefit in your body than they might appear on paper. Let’s look at the number one food on the ORAC list for antioxidant power to understand this point.

Cinnamon has the highest antioxidant capacity of any food on the this scale. Trouble is, 100 grams of cinnamon is quite a bit, and much more than most people will eat in a serving. But it also lists red beans very high on the antioxidant list, which means that if you eat 100 grams of red beans (or ½ cup, as the ORAC scale gives this measurement for beans), you will get much more of an antioxidant benefit than the teaspoon of cinnamon you mix into your oatmeal in the morning.

What foods rank high?

The following foods are the top 10 antioxidant rich foods according to the ORAC scale:

Aronia black chokeberry
Small red bean
Wild blueberry
Red kidney bean
Pinto bean
Artichoke hearts

Other foods at the top of the list include more expected foods like strawberry, plums, black beans and raspberry. The other emerging high antioxidant food is acai berry which has many times the antioxidant capacity of blueberries. This extract is now extensively studied because of its exceptionally high antioxidant abilities.

While it’s not necessary to carry this antioxidant list around with you, it’s good to understand how packed with antioxidants your foods might be and the ORAC scale can help with this.