This summer citrus fruit is a nutritional all-star.

By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
June 11, 2020
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When you think of the health benefits of oranges, the first thing that springs to mind is probably vitamin C. Citrus fruits are a terrific source, but oranges (with a medium-size orange coming in at about 62 calories) also provide a number of other protective nutrients. Here are seven reasons to eat more oranges, the health benefits of orange juice and orange peels—as well as simple ways to enjoy this delicious fruit.

Oranges are water-rich  

One medium orange provides four ounces (or a half cup) of water. Roughly 60-70% of the human body is made of water, and it’s required for every bodily process. According to the Institute of Medicine, women 19 and over need 2.7 liters of total fluid per day (about 11 8-oz cups) and men need 3.7 (about 15 8-oz cups). But that’s total fluid, not just beverages. Foods can provide 20% of your daily fluid needs, and water-rich foods like oranges contribute even more to the daily requirement. Consuming enough daily fluid helps support mental and physical energy, improve circulation, optimize organ function, flush out waste, and maximize metabolism.

Oranges provide gut- and health-protective fiber

A medium orange offers about three grams of fiber, 12% of the daily target. The fiber in oranges supports digestive function, helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, boosts feelings of fullness, and can even contribute to healthy sleep.

Nearly two of the three grams of fiber in an orange are soluble fiber. This type of fiber has been shown to help reduce blood cholesterol and fend off internal belly fat called visceral fat. One study that tracked adults over five years found that for each 10-gram increase in soluble fiber consumed, the rate of visceral belly fat accumulation decreased by 3.7%.

That’s significant: Carrying more visceral fat is linked to increased inflammation and a greater risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers.

Oranges have high vitamin C

One orange packs about 80% of the daily goal for vitamin C. In addition to supporting immune function, this key nutrient helps produce collagen, reduce inflammation, and boost the body's ability to use fat as a fuel source, both during exercise and at rest. Too little blood vitamin C has also been tied to increased body fat and waist measurements.

Vitamin C also helps boost the absorption of iron, which can enhance oxygen availability and reduce fatigue. This is especially important for premenopausal women who lose iron through menstruation, and those who follow a plant-based diet, since iron is less readily absorbed from plant sources. Vitamin C also acts as an aging-fighting antioxidant, and it's needed for DNA repair and serotonin production. The latter helps to promote happiness and sleep.

Oranges supply other key nutrients

Potassium and folate are two additional vital nutrients found in oranges. Potassium supports heart function and muscle contractions, and it helps maintain muscle mass. This mineral also acts as a natural diuretic, to reduce blood pressure and counter fluid retention. Folate supports the brain and nervous system, and adequate amounts may help protect against depression and memory problems. Oranges also supply smaller amounts of calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, and B vitamins.

Oranges are antioxidant superstars

Flavonoid antioxidants in oranges provide anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antimicrobial benefits. They also defend against oxidative stress, which is essentially an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body's ability to counter their harmful effects.

The antioxidants in oranges may also protect your mental health. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher flavonoid intake may be associated with lower depression risk, particularly among older women. A higher flavonoid intake is also linked to the prevention of weight gain and reduced body fat.

Orange peels have health benefits, too   

Health-protective nutrients aren’t only found in oranges and orange juice; they’re also in the peel. Research shows that flavonoids in citrus peels may help prevent the reproduction, growth, and spread of cancer cells, as well as support apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to kill off dysfunctional cells.

One older University of Arizona study concluded that eating one tablespoon of citrus zest per week may reduce the risk of squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer by 30%. A particular compound called herperidin, found in orange rind, has also been shown to protect against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

If you consume citrus peel, opt for organic oranges to reduce exposure to pesticide residues. Use a grater to zest the outer skin, avoiding the more bitter white pith. Add orange zest to homemade salads dressings, or as a garnish for oatmeal, fruit salad, and avocado toast to cooked veggies, quinoa, stir fries, and desserts.    

Orange juice also has health benefits

While whole oranges are more filling and provide more fiber, juice can count as part of your daily fruit intake. Research on the consumption of citrus juice indicates important benefits. One study found that a higher intake of citrus juice was linked to improvements in cognitive function in older adults. Another found that flavanone-rich citrus juice in quantities commonly consumed can enhance blood flow to the brain in healthy, young adults.

Freshly squeeze your own juice, or look for 100% orange juice or a blend of orange and other whole fruits. Aim for a four-ounce or half cup portion, and think of juice as a serving of fruit or an ingredient rather than a beverage. Add pure orange juice to a stir-fry sauce, marinade, or soup. Use to make cocktails or mocktails, or freeze in an ice cube tray and add to water along with mint or ginger.

Healthy ways to eat oranges

Oranges are fantastic as is, but you can also add them to overnight oats, garden salads, stir-fry, chilled whole-grain dishes, savory lettuce wraps, and slaw. When including an orange as a snack, combine with nuts or seeds, nut-based cheese or yogurt, or even herbed olives. And mix it up by incorporating different varieties, including navel, blood, and mandarin.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.

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