The True Value of Antioxidants

By Gitte Jensen, PhD

Controversies continue to surround methods of testing and measuring antioxidant activity.

Has there been too much hype over antioxidants in recent years? Why did the USDA remove the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) database last year? And how can we help our industry reach a grounded and solid understanding of the true value of antioxidants?

The chemical proof that a product contains compounds that will interfere with specific oxidizing chemical reactions drove parts of our industry into a numbers game: “My ORAC is bigger than yours.”  This was related to some confusion between antioxidants and biologically active compounds. The USDA wrote this when it withdrew the ORAC database from public view: “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.” Whether this fact is a good reason to withdraw the ORAC database from the public domain remains debatable.

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