Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

ORAC: Scoring Antioxidants?

What is an ORAC score, and is it something I should use in making food choices?

Answer (Published 12/28/2010)

ORAC stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity, a measure of the ability of a food or any other substance to quench oxygen free radicals in a test tube. Free radicals are unstable atoms or molecules generated in the course of normal metabolism that can strip electrons from other molecules, causing chain reactions of oxidative damage. Cumulative damage of this sort probably accounts for many of the degenerative changes of aging and for a lot of age-related disease.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Supplements & Herbs - If you are interested in supplementing your diet, and want to take the mystery out of choosing vitamins, try Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor. Visit today for your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Recommendation.

The ORAC test was developed at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), an arm of the National Institutes of Health. It assigns a score or value to a long list of fruits, vegetables and spices. As you might expect, high scores were awarded to brightly colored fruits and vegetables including blueberries and raspberries, some types of apples, and beans.

Some studies have shown that antioxidants in foods can boost the antioxidant power of the blood. In studies at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston researchers found that 10 ounces of fresh spinach produced the biggest increase in blood antioxidant scores in women. While "ORAC" and "antioxidant" are different, eating a combination of foods that have demonstrated high ORAC scores has also boosted blood antioxidant scores. ORAC researchers at the Jean Mayer Center suggest that increasing daily intake to between 3,000 and 5,000 ORAC units seems to have a significant impact on plasma and tissue antioxidant capacity.

If you like, you can choose your foods based on the ORAC scale, but it's only part of the picture in a healthy diet. While healthy foods tend to have high ORAC scores, simply having high scores in a lab does not necessarily indicate high antioxidant activity in the body, and I think you can avoid the math and get the same health benefits by sticking to my top choices of foods and eating them often. These include:

Green vegetables (which contain lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoid antioxidants that can protect aging eyes from developing cataracts and macular degeneration):

  • spinach
  • collards
  • kale

Cruciferous vegetables (contain antioxidants and other phytonutrients that reduce cancer risk):

  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • turnips

Orange/yellow fruits and vegetables (rich in carotenoids that protect the immune system):

  • sweet potatoes
  • carrots
  • mangoes
  • apricots

Red pigmented fruits (contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight heart disease and some types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer):

  • tomatoes
  • watermelon
  • papaya
  • pink grapefruit

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables (these hues come from anthocyanins, phytochemicals that protect against carcinogens and may help prevent heart disease):

  • blueberries
  • purple grapes
  • red cabbage
  • beets
  • plums

And don't forget about green and white tea, dark chocolate and red wine, all very high in antioxidant activity. If you check the ORAC score of these foods, you'll find they rank high.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here