What is ORAC?

A client recently asked me what ORAC meant, because she had read it in several health articles discussing antioxidants in fruits and vegetables. Here’s my answer. ORAC or the oxygen radical absorbance capacity measures the free radical destroying potential of a particular food.

Based on a 100 gram (about 3 ounces) portion, here’s the ranking of the top 10 fruits, the top 10 vegetables, and two surprise foods:


Goji berries 25,300
Black raspberries 7,700
Prunes 5,770
Bilberries 4,460
Pomegranates 3,307
Raisins 2,830
Blueberries 2,400
Red raspberries 2,400
Blackberries 2,026
Strawberries 1,540
Vegetables ORAC Score


Garlic 1,939
Spinach 1,770
Yellow squash 1,150
Brussels sprouts 980
Alfalfa sprouts 930
Steamed spinach 909
Broccoli 880
Beets 840
Avocado 782
Red bell pepper 710


Dark chocolate 13,120
Milk chocolate 6,740

Yes, I can hear the chocolate lovers of the world cheering! Chocolate does have some redeeming nutritional properties. And, you may ask what in the world are goji berries?

These pinkish-red berries native to Tibet and China are high in iron, protein, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, and many other nutrients. They can be eaten fresh or dried, used in cooking, cereal, trail mixes, and smoothies. You can find them at many health food stores.

While these values are useful, they are not complete. Here’s the larger picture. The ORAC scores actually measure only one type of antioxidant activity — the reactive oxygen species or ROS that functions in the water-based compartments of the body. Along with many other water-soluble antioxidants, there are fat-soluble antioxidants as well. For example, the carotenoid family of antioxidants includes beta-carotene, lycopene, luctein, canthaxanthin, and zeaxanthin, but these fat-soluble substances are not measured in the ORAC test. In addition, the ORAC measurements are done in a test tube which is very different from the complex, constantly changing biochemistry of a living body. Even though ORAC has shortcomings, it is still a useful tool. Some experts have suggested that people should consume about 5,000 ORAC units a day for maximum health benefits.

Based on what you eat every day, what is your ORAC score?

Dr. Lipski is the Director of Academic Development for the Nutrition and Integrative Health programs at Maryland University of Integrative Health. She has been working in the fields of nutrition, holistic health, herbology, and lifestyle management for more than 30 years. Prior to joining MUIH, she served as Director of Doctoral Studies and Educational Director at Hawthorne University. She has been extensively published in many academic journals and is the author of four books, including Digestive Wellness and The Digestive Connection. Dr. Lipski speaks nationally and internationally, is on faculty at the Institute for Functional Medicine, and serves on advisory boards for the Ceres Foundation and the Autism Help Alliance. She received her doctorate in clinical nutrition from the Union Institute with a specialization in functional medicine, is board certified in clinical nutrition (CCN) and holistic nutrition (CHN), and is a certified nutrition specialist (CNS).