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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 (2010)
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Recently the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory  (NDL) removed the USDA ORAC Database for Selected Foods from the NDL website due to mounting evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health.

There are a number of bioactive compounds which are theorized to have a role in preventing or ameliorating various chronic diseases such as cancer, coronary vascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.  However, the associated metabolic pathways are not completely understood and non-antioxidant mechanisms, still undefined, may be responsible. ORAC values are routinely misused by food and dietary supplement manufacturing companies to promote their products and by consumers to guide their food and dietary supplement choices.

A number of chemical techniques, of which Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is, one, were developed in an attempt to measure the antioxidant capacity of foods. The ORAC assay measures the degree of inhibition of peroxy-radical-induced oxidation by the compounds of interest in a chemical milieu. It measures the value as Trolox equivalents and includes both inhibition time and the extent of inhibition of oxidation.  Some newer versions of the ORAC assay use other substrates and results among the various ORAC assays are not comparable. In addition to the ORAC assay, other measures of antioxidant capacity include ferric ion reducing antioxidant power (FRAP) and trolox equivalence antioxidant capacity (TEAC) assays. These assays are based on discrete underlying mechanisms that use different radical or oxidant sources and therefore generate distinct values and cannot be compared directly. 

There is no evidence that the beneficial effects of polyphenol-rich foods can be attributed to the antioxidant properties of these foods.  The data for antioxidant capacity of foods generated by in vitro (test-tube) methods cannot be extrapolated to in vivo (human) effects and the clinical trials to test benefits of dietary antioxidants have produced mixed results. We know now that antioxidant molecules in food have a wide range of functions, many of which are unrelated to the ability to absorb free radicals.

For these reasons the ORAC table, previously available on this web site has been withdrawn.


Last Modified: 5/16/2012
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