Q: I have heard about the ORAC value of the açaí berry. Is it as high in antioxidants as they say?
A: ORAC, short for “oxygen radical absorbance capacity,” is a chemical test scientists use to measure the antioxidant potency of a particular food. There are actually a variety of tests that scientists can use to test the antioxidant capacity of foods. What must be understood, however, is that the antioxidant capacity of a specific food determined in the lab does not necessarily translate to the antioxidant capacity of that food in the human body. That said, to strengthen our body’s defenses against highly destructive free radical damage, we should try to eat a variety of plant foods (high on the ORAC scale) daily. The easiest way to do that is to consume a rainbow of colors throughout the day. In 2007, scientists at the USDA published a list of ORAC values for 277 foods. Some of the foods highest on the USDA ORAC scale include red wine, English walnuts, oregano, cocoa and gingerroot.
The açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) berry is the fruit of a type of palm tree (Euterpe oleracea) that grows near the Amazon River of Brazil. Açaí is consumed in beverages and food products, and yes, it has been found to exhibit an exceptional antioxidant capacity in the lab. A recent study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (Seeram et al., 2008), ranked the antioxidant potency of several commonly consumed beverages in the United States. Pomegranate juice led the pack followed by red wine > Concord grape juice > blueberry juice > black cherry juice > açaí juice > cranberry juice > OJ, iced tea and apple juice.
The bottom line: don’t be misled by claims of one particular food’s superior antioxidant activity, which may or may not be based on accurate testing. Eating a variety of antioxidant-rich foods, on a daily basis, is your best strategy for harnessing the disease-fighting antioxidant potential of the mighty plant kingdom.