HomeHealthcareThe ORAC level, a measure of the antioxidant power of foods

The ORAC level, a measure of the antioxidant power of foods

The ORAC level indicates the antioxidant power of foods. A value to be constantly pursued with a varied and balanced diet. Rich in functional foods or nutraceuticals. As well as free from ultra-processed foods, responsible for genetic changes and aging, as seen.

Antioxidant power of foods, nutraceuticals

The Nobel Prize for medicine Luc Montagnier - in a long one interview to his late friend Giulietto Chiesa, on 25.2.20 - he recommended preparing for Covid-19 by strengthening one's immune system, with a balanced diet rich in antioxidant foods.

Nutraceuticals - from the crasis between 'nutrition' and 'pharmaceutical' (term coined in 1989 by Stephen L. De Felice, founder of Foundation for Innovation in Medicine and author of The NutraCeutical Revolution) - in turn focuses on products with a high antioxidant value. (1). With regard to their ability to:

- favor some essential physiological functions of the organism,

- slow down and mitigate i phenomena related to aging(2)

- prevent the risk factors of some diseases, including chronic and degenerative ones (3,4).

ORAC level and free radicals

The ORAC level (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) expresses exactly the antioxidant power of each food and is measured in ORAC units (µMolTe). The higher the ORAC level, the greater the ability of food to induce absorption of free radicals in the body's cells.

Free radicals they are the cause of oxidative stress of the cells and contributing cause of the former etiological agents of premature mortality in the last two centuries. Heart attacks, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, chronic tumors and inflammations, diabetes and hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, metabolic syndrome and obesity. (5)

ORAC levels in food

Mixtures based on fruit and milk offer effective consumption on one occasion mix of substances with high antioxidant power. There is indeed a peculiar synergy between vitamins, phenolic compounds and polyphenols fruit and various milk proteins with antioxidant action. Through ORAC, a method chosen for the specificity and breadth of response to numerous antioxidants, it was observed that the increase in the concentration of both ingredients determines an increase in their antioxidant capacity. (6)

Among the freeze-dried vegetables - out of 927 samples of different species - green peppers, spinach, purple onions, broccoli, cauliflower and beetroot revealed the greatest antioxidant power. (7) Processing processes can in turn affect the ORAC level in some foods. In tomatoes, for example, the antioxidant power increases following cooking (since increases the concentration of lycopene). THE cultivate and agronomic factors can in turn affect the antioxidant power, which it is higher for example in organic products. (8)

Antioxidant power, rare news on the label

Science is unanimous in recognizing the beneficial role of antioxidants for health. However, reports of 'total antioxidant' content - as well as 'total antioxidant activity' on food labels are rare. Due to the lack of scientific consensus on a standard method for their qualitative-quantitative analysis. Consequently, clinical studies on the correlations between antioxidant inputs and health benefits are generally conducted on individual foods or their categories, or substances contained therein. (9)

The ORAC levels, on the other hand, they revealed some inconsistencies in the values ​​obtained on some foods. A Granny Smith variety apple, for example, can reach 5000 ORAC units / day. While the achievement of the same value with α-tocopherol requires the intake of 8 capsules with 400 IU of vitamin E. (10)

ORAC levels in various foods

USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), based on a meta-analysis of 14 scientific studies, has drawn up a list of 275 foods whose ORAC levels are reported per 100 grams and per serving. Spices and chocolate prevailed on the first classification, while fruit in general, with apples and berries / seeds, on the serving list. (11) After a short time, the   was integrated, up to consider 326 foods. (12)

The site websites of USDA, following the update, de-published the   in question, deducing a posteriori the lack of scientific evidence on the correlation between antioxidant capacity and the presence of antioxidant substances (eg polyphenols), as well as on the etiological link between the antioxidant action and the beneficial effects attributed to the individual substances. Subsequent clinical studies have also refuted these apodictic assumptions of USDA. (13)

ORAC level table

Fig 1. List of ORAC values ​​of certain foods (USDA, 2010)

Health claims provided for in the EU

European regulations su Nutrition & Health Claims (EC reg. 1924/06, EU reg. 432/12 and subsequent) have provided for the possibility of using health claim which pertain to the antioxidant action, in the commercial information relating to certain foods, under the conditions established therein. In particular:

- extra virgin olive oil. The polyphenols in olive oil contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress,
- copper, selenium, zinc contribute to the protection of cells from oxidative stress,
- vitamins B2 (riboflavin), C and E in turn they contribute to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.

Levels of ORAC on the label

On closer inspection, the sole indication of ORAC levels in commercial information relating to individual foods - labels, advertisements, sites websites, QR-queues (also by guarantee of blockchain public, eg. Wise Chain) - does not qualify as nutrition claim (since it does not concern energy, nutrient and other contents), nor how health claim. As it, by itself, does not suggest any health benefits. (14)

A critical element to be considered - in addition to compliance with the general and specific criteria for correct information to the consumer (in compliance with EU regulation 1169/11 and the Consumer Code, Legislative Decree 206/05 and subsequent amendments) - is the consistency of the data with the actual characteristics of the product, throughout the course of shelf life indicated on the label. Also taking into account the possible deterioration (e.g. oxidation) of the substances that contribute to the result.

Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna


(1) Gul et al. (2016). Nutraceuticals and functional foods: The foods for the future world. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 56 (16): 2617-2627. doi: 10.1080 / 10408398.2014.903384
(2) Vranešić-Bender (2010). The role of nutraceuticals in anti-aging medicine. Acta Clin. Croat. 49: 537-544
(3) Wichansawakun et al. (2019). Antioxidant diets and functional foods promote healthy aging and longevity through diverse mechanisms of action. In The Role of Functional Food Security in Global Health. Academic Press, pp. 541-563,  https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-813148-0.00032-3
(4) Martell et al. (2018). Antiaging effects of bioactive molecules isolated from plants and fungi. Med. Res. Rev. 39 (5): 1515-1552, doi: 10.1002 / med.21559
(5) Price et al. (2006). Application of manual assessment of oxygen radical absorbent capacity (ORAC) for use in high throughput assay of "total" antioxidant activity of drugs and natural products. Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods 54: 56-61, doi: 10.1016 / j.vascn.2005.11.002
(6) Zulueta et al. (2009) ORAC and TEAC assays comparison to measure the antioxidant capacity of food products. Food Chemistry 114: 310-316, doi: 10.1016 / j.foodchem.2008.09.033
(7) Ou et al. (2002). Analysis of antioxidant activities of common vegetables employing Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) and Ferric Reducing Antioxidant Power (FRAP) assays: a comparative study. J. Agric. Food Chem. 50: 3122-3128, doi: 10.1021 / jf0116606
(8) Wu et al. (2004). Development of a database for total antioxidant capacity in foods: a preliminary study. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 17: 407-422, doi: 10.1016 / j.jfca.2004.03.001
(9) Institute of Medicine (2000). Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. The National Academic Press, https://doi.org/10.17226/9810
(10) Apak et al. (2013). Methods of measurement and evaluation of natural antioxidant capacity / activity (IUPAC Technical Report). Pure Appl. Chem. 85 (5): 957-998, http://dx.doi.org/10.1351/PAC-REP-12-07-15
(11) United States Department of Agriculture (2010). USDA database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of selected foodshttps://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Articles/AICR07_ORAC.pdf
(12) United States Department of Agriculture (2010). USDA database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of selected foods, release 2. https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/43336/PDF
(13) Prior (2015). Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC): New horizons in relating dietary antioxidants / bioactives and health benefits. Journal of Functional Foods 18: 797-810, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2014.12.018 
(14) EC Reg. 1924/06, article 2.2, points 4,5,6
(15) Ferraretto et al. (2013). Mediterranean diet: Functional foods and physical activity, benefits for human health. Functional Foods: Sources, Biotechnology Applications and Health Challenges. Nova Science Publishers, Inc. pp. 95-119, ISBN 9781624174353
(16) Williamson et al. (2020). Trends in use, pharmacology, and clinical applications of emerging herbal nutraceuticals. Br. J. Pharmacol. 177: 1227-1240, doi: 10.1111 / bph.14943
(17) Pavlovich et al. (2020). Nutraceuticals for promoting longevity. Current Nutraceuticals 1: 18-32, doi: 10.2174 / 2665978601666200213121512

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

Andrea Adelmo Della Penna
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Graduated in Food Technologies and Biotechnologies, qualified food technologist, he follows the research and development area. With particular regard to European research projects (in Horizon 2020, PRIMA) where the FARE division of WIISE Srl, a benefit company, participates.

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