If you’re interested in chaga, one concept you may run across from time to time is ORAC. Short for Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity, the ORAC system is a way of measuring how rich a particular food is in antioxidants.
One of chaga’s major selling points is that it is rich in antioxidants, which help combat free radicals and have other positive benefits for the human body. Because of this, it behooves you to better understand ORAC and how it relates to chaga quality.
What is ORAC?
As mentioned above, ORAC is a means of determining the antioxidant content of particular foods. It is measured as μ mol TE/100g. Developed by the National Institute on Aging (a part of the National Institutes on Health), ORAC is a way to easily quantify how effective certain foods are at fighting free radicals, which are known to accelerate aging by causing cellular damage.
To test a food’s ORAC value, they are put through various lab tests designed to see how well they can prevent free radicals from damaging an individual molecule. These tests are carried out in test tubes where the food in question, the free radicals, and the molecule are all placed. The greater a food’s ability to safeguard the molecule from damage inflicted by the free radicals, the richer it is in antioxidants and thus the higher an ORAC score it receives.
The reason the ORAC system exists is because scientists have recently determined that the mere presence of certain vitamins or minerals in a food is not enough to make it an effective deterrent against free radicals. ORAC shows not just the presence of anti-free radical nutrients in a food, but how active they are in actually fighting those free radicals. ORAC also shows how different types of nutrients act in synergy to fight free radicals instead of merely talking about them in isolation.
How Can ORAC Help You?
ORAC isn’t merely a statistic that is useful only to scientists: it has very real implications for consumers and their food purchasing decisions. Therefore, in order to understand the importance of ORAC, we need to understand both antioxidants and the free radicals that they are designed to fight.
What Are Antioxidants and Free Radicals?
Free radicals are surplus atoms and molecules that are created as a product of normal metabolism in the human body. They are called free radicals because they are not attached to any existing cell or molecular structure and roam free throughout the body. They are distinguished by having an uneven number of electrons, in contrast to normal atoms with evenly paired electrons.
Free radicals are a problem because they move through the body and collide with other molecules. In particular, they destroy DNA and cell membranes, which results in the onset of aging as well as various degenerative diseases. In short, free radicals are a major factor in the aging process and keeping them under control is key to maintaining your body’s integrity.
Antioxidants are the primary means of combating free radicals. Antioxidants work by preventing free radicals from interacting with other cells, slowing cellular damage and the aging process by extension. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin E, and other common nutrients and vitamins.
Which Foods Have the Highest ORAC Score?
There are a number of foods and supplements that rank extremely highly in ORAC, making them very good additions to your diet. Here are a few of them.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, chaga is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods available in the world. A mushroom that grows on birch trees and is harvested in the northernmost reaches of Eurasia and North America, chaga has been used as a folk remedy by indigenous peoples in these areas for generations and is growing in popularity as an alternative medicine.
Chaga is distinguished by its large number of polysaccharides, which boost immune system health in addition to regulating blood sugar and cholesterol. Indeed, chaga actually has an ORAC score three times higher than acai berries, which are well-known as an antioxidant-rich superfood. To compare, chaga has an ORAC score of 146,700 μ mol TE/100g, compared to 102,700 μ mol TE/100g for acai.
Hailing from the Himalayas, goji berries are one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the face of the planet. Goji berries are distinguished by their high nutrient content, including copious amounts of iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and amino acids. This gives goji berries one of the highest ORAC scores out there.
Often found in curries and other spicy dishes, turmeric is known to fight inflammation in countries where it is a staple in local cuisine. Its anti-inflammatory qualities are just one reason why it has a high ORAC score. Turmeric can be eaten as a food or taken in supplement form for your convenience.
Blueberries have recently become recognized as a health food, and they also possess a strong ORAC score. Rich in antioxidants, blueberries can help combat cancer, aging, and other ailments, and blueberry juice also possesses a higher ORAC score compared to pomegranate, grape, cranberry, and other types of fruit juices.
While green tea is popularly known as a health drink, it actually has a significantly lower ORAC score than the other superfoods on this list, and is even ranked lower than russet potatoes according to the FDA. While green tea does have proven health benefits, there’s no need to drink multiple glasses a day.
What Food Has the Highest ORAC Score in the World?
While ORAC scoring is a relatively recent phenomenon and there is still a lot of work to be done in this field, general consensus points to moringa having the highest ORAC score of any known food.
Problems with ORAC Scoring
Because of ORAC scoring being a relatively new science, there is a considerable amount of misinformation floating around on the topic. In particular, manufacturers of antioxidant-rich foods have seized on ORAC as a means of distinguishing their products, promoting them as having high ORAC scores. Due to false advertising and other dishonest uses of the ORAC scale, some have even begun claiming that the ORAC scale itself is useless.
Other critics have pointed out that ORAC measures how foods interact with free radicals in a laboratory setting and are not applicable to the human body, which is a far more complex entity with many factors that can help or hinder antioxidant performance. Some antioxidant researchers have pointed to a lack of concrete proven connections between ORAC score and human health.
The central complaint against ORAC scoring, however, is its misuse by supplement and food vendors. Many manufacturers will make grandiose claims about their products, claiming that they can stop aging and make people young again. Due to a lack of regulation in the supplement market, it is unlikely that these false claims will be addressed any time soon.
It’s important to remember that ORAC score is just one factor when it comes to the quality of a particular food or supplement. There are many other factors that you should take into consideration when you are shopping, and you should avoid being sucked in by big claims, even if they are accompanied by scientific-sounding statistics.
You should also keep in mind that the science of ORAC scoring is still in its infancy, and there are many aspects to it that have yet to be refined. The bottom line: always go into your purchasing decisions with a clear mind and avoid falling prey to fantastical claims involving ORAC scores or anything else.
Errors in Measuring ORAC
Because there is currently no central authority responsible for determining and regulating ORAC scores, there is a lot of bad information on the Internet about the subject. Many websites and vendors will publish misleading information about their products’ ORAC scores, most often by publishing numbers without specifying the unit that the number is intended to represent. It is because of this that the USDA no longer publicizes their ORAC chart online.
It is important to remember that ORAC is just one way of measuring a product’s usefulness. In order to select a food or supplement that is best for you, you need to look at it holistically and evaluate all of its upsides and potential downsides. Always do your research before you purchase any product.
ORAC scores are a valuable and important tool when it comes to assessing a food’s antioxidant quality. If you’re concerned about aging and degenerative diseases, you’ll want to consume products that are rich in antioxidants, and the ORAC system can help you find out which foods and supplements will give you the most bang for your buck.
However, ORAC is just one tool that is available in your quest to find the best foods and supplements for you. It’s not a magic bullet, so weigh your options carefully when shopping to ensure that you can get the best products available for your particular situation, budget, and desires.