Antioxidant is one of the biggest food buzzwords today, Many of us know that antioxidants have the potential to improve overall health, delay the onset of many age-related diseases, prevent macular eye disease, reduce the risk of some cancers and more. Often the ORAC value is cited when speaking about antioxidants; so what is ORAC referring to and what foods contain the most antioxidant richness?
Antioxidants are nothing more than vitamins, A, C and E, the mineral selenium, and phytonutrients or bioactive compounds like carotenoids and polyphenols found in foods. We need them to stay healthy and disease free. Our need for them is actually derived from a paradox in metabolism. Our bodies require oxygen to function, but oxygen – by itself – is highly reactive and creates harmful byproducts through oxidation called free-radicals. These byproducts aka, free radicals, are potentially damaging to cells and the DNA, the genetic material within our cells. The main role of antioxidants is to stabilize or neutralize these free radicals before they cause harm.
The body’s defense against oxidative stress decreases over time, which is why a diet rich in antioxidant foods is needed as we age. Oxidation is a normal process that occurs in the body through normal cell function and metabolism as well as from outside sources including pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, motor vehicle emissions, and many other processes. Environmental free radicals then enter the body through the skin, respiration, and other means. Achieving a balance with an antioxidant rich diet is crucial to maintaining good health.
A food’s antioxidant power is measured in units called ORACs, or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, referring to how much radical oxygen a food can absorb. The ORAC scale was developed by USDA researchers at Tufts University in order to inform the public about different foods’ antioxidant capacity.
Which foods contain the highest ORAC value? One hundred grams of grapes (about 23 grapes) rates 739 on the ORAC scale; 100 grams (about 70 blueberries) of blueberries rakes in at 2,400, raspberries (about 50) 1,220. One hundred grams of kale and spinach (about a cup and a half) contain 1,770 and 1,260 respectively. And chocolate? 100 grams contains a whopping 13,120 ORAC! (note* that is unsweetened cacao and not a milk and sugary sweetened chocolate bar).
Individual colors are important indicators – darker foods, like pomegranates (3,037 ORAC) and plums (949) tend to be more antioxidant-rich. Orange foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, and pumpkin contain beta-carotene. Lutein, known for its association with healthy eyes, is abundant in greens. Some other vitamin A rich foods include liver, milk, and egg yolks; vitamin E is found in broccoli, almonds, and mangos, while whole grains provide selenium.