The ORAC Value of Chocolate
The ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) Value of Chocolate
Antioxidants, sometimes referred to as phytonutrients, protect the body from free radical damage and can help to prevent premature aging and chronic diseases. Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough antioxidants in the diet to offset the harmful effects of free radicals. Furthermore, antioxidant levels in the circulatory systems of the body decline with older age. The combination of low antioxidant consumption and declining antioxidant levels place most individuals at an elevated risk for free radical damage. Therefore, it is critical that the diet regularly contains rich sources of antioxidants.
The next challenge is to identify the foods that contain the highest levels of antioxidants. Most nutritionists will identify foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and tea as the richest sources of antioxidants. While all of these foods should be part of a healthy diet and are abundant in natural vitamins, none of them provide the antioxidant bang for your buck as in one serving of cocoa or dark chocolate. The bottom line is, chocolate is the winner hands down.
Until recently, it was difficult to identify the antioxidant levels that were found in particular foods. However, the United States Department of Agriculture developed a database of nearly 300 commonly eaten foods that detailed these levels. Since there are a variety of different antioxidants each with varying potencies and interactions with one another it is difficult to make direct comparisons between foods. The National Institute on Aging, however, developed the ORAC, or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, which is a standardized measure of a food's overall antioxidant capacity that allows to compare many different foods to one another.
A higher ORAC score translates into a greater ability of a food to destroy free radicals and prevent them from causing damage to the body. Most people should aim for a diet that provides an ORAC value of at least 1800 each day. However, a daily ORAC consumption of 5000 or greater has the most benefit and is generally recommended in particular for the elderly.
The following is a listing of the foods with the highest ORAC values based on a standard serving size (1):
- Unsweetened Baking Chocolate- 14479
- Raw Elderberries- 10655
- Red Delicious Apple -7781
- Granny Smith Apple - 7094
- Pomegranate Juice- 5923
- Dark Chocolate Bar - 5903
- Uncooked Prunes - 5700
Obviously, foods containing cocoa are among the richest antioxidant sources. And not only does cocoa have a high ORAC score, but there is also plenty of direct evidence that cocoa actually reduces the risk of chronic disease.
One study showed that consumption of cocoa powder increased HDL (good) cholesterol and lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol (Baba 2007). Even more compelling was a study performed by researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands (Buijsse 2006). This group studied the cocoa consumption of almost 500 men and then analyzed their mortality rate for 15 years thereafter. Amazingly, the men who ate the most cocoa had half the overall mortality rate and half the cardiovascular mortality rate as the men who ate the least cocoa. Cocoa powder also has a significant impact on the inhibition of cancer cell growth (Carnésecchi 2002) and it improves blood flow to the brain, which significantly decreases stroke and dementia risk (Sorond 2008).
These results demonstrate that the high ORAC value of cocoa translates into significant practical health benefits. Given the recommendation of 5000 ORAC points each day, this value could be obtained with a surprisingly small portion of chocolate 1/3 of a square of unsweetened baking chocolate or one piece of dark chocolate candy each day. This dispels the myth that you have to eat a lot of chocolate to reap health benefits these benefits can be enjoyed with just a little chocolate that adds up to only 50 calories each day. So go ahead, enjoy a little chocolate every day. It will improve your health dramatically without adding to your waistline.
Dr. Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND
Baba S, Natsume M, Yasuda A, Nakamura Y, Tamura T, Osakabe N, Kanegae M, Kondo K. Plasma LDL and HDL cholesterol and oxidized LDL concentrations are altered in normo- and hypercholesterolemic humans after intake of different levels of cocoa powder. J Nutr. 2007 Jun; 137(6):1436-41.
Buijsse B, Feskens EJ, Kok FJ, Kromhout D. Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Arch Intern Med. 2006 Feb 27; 166(4):411-7.
Carnésecchi S, Schneider Y, Lazarus SA, Coehlo D, Gossé F, Raul F. Flavanols and procyanidins of cocoa and chocolate inhibit growth and polyamine biosynthesis of human colonic cancer cells. Cancer Lett. 2002 Jan 25;175(2):147-55.
Sorond FA, Lipsitz LA, Hollenberg NK, Fisher ND. Cerebral blood flow response to flavanol-rich cocoa in healthy elderly humans. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008 Apr; 4(2):433-40.
United States Department of Agriculture. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods. http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=15866, 2007.
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Title: The ORAC Value of Chocolate