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News Archive - Progress Newsletter Spring 2001 Online

Food for Thought: What is ORAC?

By Suzanne Dixon, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.
U-M Cancer Center Nutrition Specialist

Have you ever heard the word ORAC?
What is it?
What does it mean?

ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. This is just a fancy way of saying, "How well does a certain food help my body fight diseases like cancer and heart disease?"

In the name ORAC are the words 'oxygen radical.' What are oxygen radicals and why do we want to absorb them?

Oxygen radicals are a normal everyday part of living. They are in our bodies all the time. But, even though we have these oxygen radicals, they can be bad for us - they can damage our cells. They cause damage by doing what we call "oxidation." If our bodies have weapons to absorb these oxygen radicals, then they won't hurt us.

What is oxidation?

Oxidation is a natural process that occurs around us all the time. One example of oxidation is rusting. When metal rusts it becomes weak and flaky. It can't do what it's supposed to do. It's damaged by oxidation. This exact same process happens in your body! Just like rusting metal, the cells, organs and other parts of your body can be damaged by oxidation. This can lead to diseases, like cancer and heart disease.

Is there anything I can do to stop oxidation from happening in my body?

Yes! One of the best ways to stop oxidation is by choosing the right foods to eat. This is where ORAC is important. ORAC is a way to measure how much oxidation food can prevent. The more oxidation a food can prevent, the higher its ORAC score. The higher its ORAC score, the better it is at helping our bodies fight disease.

Which foods are best at fighting disease? Which foods have high ORAC scores?

Here's the easy part. Plant foods have the highest ORAC scores! Plant foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and many other things. Meat, milk and other animal foods do not count as plant foods.

What are the best plant foods?

Brightly colored plant foods help fight disease by stopping oxidation in our bodies. Think of bright reds, greens, oranges, blues, purples and yellows. Strawberries, spinach, carrots, oranges, blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and yellow peppers are a few examples. Any brightly colored fruits and vegetables that you can think of will help fight disease!

Why can't I just take a pill to keep myself healthy?

Scientists are just beginning to understand how plant foods fight cancer. They haven't even discovered all that plants have to offer. New, natural plant chemicals are being discovered every day. We don't know which ones, in what amounts, best fight cancer and other diseases. But we do know something - you must get these plant chemicals from plant foods, NOT supplements, to get the disease-fighting benefits. In fact, several studies show an INCREASED risk of cancer in people who take supplements of certain plant chemicals. But research does support that people who get more of these chemicals from plant foods have lower risk of cancer and other diseases.

For more information:

Visit the Prevention Section of Nutrition Services' web pages


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Speak with a Cancer nurse: 1-800-865-1125
Please Note:

This publication is now a part of the Cancer Center's News Archive. It is listed here for historical purposes only.

The information and links may no longer be up-to-date.

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