What’s an ORAC?

3 Jul
Orange Goji-Berry Smoothie

Orange Goji-Berry Smoothie

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to eat “well” is sorting through the abundant and often competing information out there about what that means. The varied opinions and the speed at which these opinions change, is dizzying, and it seems like the loudest voice at any given time wins the public relations game.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about ORAC scores, and what they might mean for me. ORAC (which stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a measurement of the antioxidants in the foods we eat. The narrative is this: we should eat foods that have a lot of antioxidants because antioxidants fight free radicals, which contribute to the effects of aging on living organisms.

However, both of those theories — that antioxidants in food fight free radicals in our bodies, and that free radicals contribute to aging — are controversial, and depending on which camp you fall into, that makes the ORAC score of your food either very important or entirely moot. The USDA, which once measured and published ORAC scores for a wide variety of foods, no longer considers ORAC scores, or the free-radical theory, as valid. Of course, the USDA is a government entity subjected to extensive lobbying by the food industry which would very much like us to keep buying their processed and modified foods, which unfortunately calls into the question the veracity of the USDA’s research. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., a prominent health and wellness expert, says “cumulative [free radical damage] probably* accounts for many of the degenerative changes of aging and for a lot of age-related disease” but advises a tempered approach to using ORAC to determine what goes on your plate.

The bottom line, for me, is that ORAC scores in and of themselves do not provide particularly useful information about the plant-based foods we eat or why they are or aren’t good for us, and that there may be more practical methods–possibly the ANDI score–of comparing some foods over others, if you feel the need to do so.

*emphasis mine

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