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The ORAC (Antioxidant) Value of Spices and Herbs

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

Antioxidants are important compounds in the body that keep free radicals from attacking and damaging the cells & DNA of a body. Free radicals can be caused by chemicals, toxins, pollutants, and especially processed foods, animal products and dairy. Even a lack of sleep, stress and exercise has been shown to cause excessive free radicals from oxidative stress can be dangerous to our long term health.


Free radicals are akin to waste produced by the cells of the body, and thus, it is important for them to be processed and removed. If this does not happen, the human body can experience oxidative stress, which has consequently been linked to cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. (Simone Reuter, 2010)


As a response to these free radicals, the human body produces antioxidants naturally. However, these alone are not enough, which is why the consumption of whole foods that are rich in antioxidants is also essential. Despite big pharma's efforts to extract antioxidants and mimic nature for profit, supplements are not a substitute for antioxidant rich whole foods. In fact, there is a lot of evidence antioxidant supplements actually increase mortality. The recommendation provided by USDA is to consume a rough minimum of 5k ORAC daily in addition to a balanced whole food plant based diet. Dr Gregor from nutritionfacts.org says it's closer to 8 to 11k ORAC daily. What's clear from the evidence is that herbs and spices contain much larger antioxidant levels than most other whole food plants. Therefore adding herbs and spices to your daily diet is not just good for your taste buds but also essential to your health.


antioxidant to calories chart
Calories to mmol TE/day

Various Spices And Their ORAC Value

There are various spices that can be consumed every day for a specific supply of antioxidants. Here are the ORAC scores in order of 'real-world' quantities (4 grams or a 'pinch') that would be used in a typical recipe.

Herbs & Spices

ORAC - 1 tsp (4 grams)

ORAC - 1 tbps

11,611

34,833

7,011

21,035

6,611

19,833

6,295

18,886

5,257

15,771

5,083

15,248

4,797

14,391

Pepper

4,736

14,208

2,786

8,357

2,497

8,841

2,443

7,329

Cumin (ground)

2,015

1,561

4,683

1,170

3,511

1,091

3,273

945

877

2,632

787

2,361

622

1,866

Peppermint

559

1,677

267

Lemon

240

720

206

Dill Weed

146

* ORAC values are provided by USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 – Prepared by Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – May 2010. These values are an estimate and should only be used as a guide and not taken as dietary advice.


The ORAC Score

The ORAC unit or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity is a method that was developed by scientists and researchers working at the National Institute of Health and Aging (NIH) and is used by the USDA. The ORAC value or ORAC score is a measure of the antioxidant capacity of a wide range of foods.


Although an exact relationship has not been established between the ORAC score of food and its health benefit, it is a common belief that foods that have a high value have a greater antioxidant capacity. Therefore, they are better able to effectively neutralize the dangerous free radicals present in the body.


As per the free-radical theory of disease and aging, a high intake of foods rich in antioxidants will help slow down the process of oxidation, as well as free radical damage. Both these are significant contributors to age-related disease and degeneration.


How Many ORAC Units Should Be Consumed In A Day?

The ORAC unit was developed at the TUFTS University for the US Department of Agriculture or USDA. This was done to provide a reliable and easy way of determining the antioxidant capacity of different kinds of foods.


According to the FDA, for a person to stay in optimal health, they should consume a total of at least 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC score worth of foods on a daily basis. On the other hand, athletes need an intake of an even greater account to perform well.


Method Of Performing The ORAC Test

The process of testing a food item for its ORAC value is a simple one. The first step is to place the sample in a test tube, as well as certain molecules to help in the generation of free radical activity. Other molecules are also placed inside the test tube, specifically those that are vulnerable to the process of oxidation.


After a short while, the sample is checked to see how well it protected the vulnerable molecules. The lesser the free radical damage is, the greater the antioxidant capacity of the tested substance.


References

Lack of sleep - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30001323/


ORAC values - USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 – Prepared by Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – May 2010 & http://www.orac-info-portal.de/download/ORAC_R2.pdf


Supplements increase mortality - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24241129/#:~:text=Even%20more%2C%20beta%2Dcarotene%2C,of%20chronic%20diseases%20or%20mortality


Recommended daily allowance of antioxidants - Dr Gregor (Nutritionfacts.org) https://nutritionfacts.org/video/minimum-recommended-daily-allowance-of-antioxidants/. Daily minimum of 11,000 ORAC or 11 TE/day - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17536129/




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