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Oranges: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts

oranges

Oranges and clementines — the juicy citrus fruits that are in season during wintertime — are vitamin goldmines. They contain vitamin C and the pigment beta-cryptoxanthin, both of which may act as antioxidants, according to 2005 study.
Researchers from the United Kingdom found that even a modest increase in fruit and vegetables containing beta-cryptoxanthin and vitamin C, such as one glass of freshly squeezed orange juice each day, may protect against inflammatory joint diseases.
Credit: Magdalena Zurawska | shutterstock

Sweet, juicy oranges make a delicious and healthy snack or addition to a meal. A whole orange contains only about 85 calories and has no fat, cholesterol or sodium. And, of course, "oranges are well known for their vitamin C content," said Laura Flores, a San Diego-based nutritionist.

Oranges may boost your immune system and improve your skin; they also aid with heart health, cholesterol levels and other issues. Oranges may additionally help reduce the risk of respiratory diseases, certain cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcers and kidney stones.

Orange juice is also packed with nutrients but does not contain the fiber of a whole orange. Orange pith, the white substance between the peel and the flesh, is high in fiber. Furthermore, it is easy to consume more calories when drinking orange juice than when eating an orange, warns the Centers for Disease Control

Here are the nutrition facts about oranges from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the National Labeling and Education Act:

Nutrition Facts

Serving size:
1 medium orange
(5.5 oz / 154 g)

Calories 80
  Calories from Fat 0

*Percent Daily Values (%DV)
are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Amt per Serving %DV*   Amt per Serving %DV*  
Total Fat 0g 0%   Total Carbohydrate 19g 6%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%     Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sodium 0mg 0%      Sugars 14g  
Potassium 250mg 7%   Protein 1g  
Vitamin A 2%   Calcium 6%
Vitamin C 130%   Iron 0%

 

Health benefits of oranges

Immune system

Most citrus fruits have a good deal of vitamin C, and oranges have high levels even compared to their tangy brethren. Vitamin C protects cells by scavenging and neutralizing free radicals, explains a 2010 article in the medical journal Pharmacognosy Reviews. Free radicals may lead to chronic conditions such as cancer and heart disease. Not only may oranges help reduce the risk of chronic conditions, but they may also boost a person's immunity when dealing with everyday viruses and infections like the common cold.

Skin

Vitamin C also helps keep skin looking beautiful, by helping fight against skin damage caused by the sun and pollution. It is vital to collagen production and may help reduce wrinkles and improve the skin's overall texture, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Cholesterol

All the fiber in oranges may help lower cholesterol levels, because it picks up excess cholesterol compounds in the gut and pushes them out in the elimination process. A 2010 study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that drinking orange juice for 60 days decreased low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol or "bad cholesterol") in people with high cholesterol.

Heart

Oranges contain vitamin C, fiber, potassium and choline, which are all good for your heart, so the fruits may give your ticker a big boost. Potassium, an electrolyte mineral, is vital for allowing electricity to flow through your body, which keeps your heart beating. Lack of potassium can lead to arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. According to one 2012 study, people who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium each day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from heart disease compared with those who consumed only about 1,000 mg of potassium per day. According to Flores, "the potassium found in oranges helps to lower blood pressure, protecting against stroke." She noted another heart-related benefit, pointing out that oranges are "high in folate, which is beneficial in lowering levels of homocysteine, a cardiovascular risk factor."

Diabetes

Oranges are high in fiber, which can help lower blood sugar levels in people with type 1 diabetes and improve blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association lists oranges, along with other citrus fruits, as a superfood for people with diabetes.

Digestion and weight loss

Oranges are high in fiber, which aids in digestion by keeping you regular. It is also good for weight loss. "Oranges are a low-fat, nutrient-rich food with a low glycemic index, which make it an ideal food to consume to protect against obesity, which can lead to other diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke," Flores told Live Science. The glycemic index is a measure of how food affects a person's blood sugar levels: Foods with a high glycemic index (such as white bread) cause glucose levels to spike quickly after they are eaten, while foods with a low glycemic index (such as vegetables and legumes) cause blood sugar levels to rise more slowly and remain more constant over time.

Vision

Oranges are vitamin A rich. This nutrient contains carotenoid compounds like lutein, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which can help prevent age-related macular degeneration, an incurable condition that blurs central vision. Vitamin A also helps your eyes absorb light, and it improves night vision. Furthermore, the American Optometric Association reports that vitamin C can help reduce the risk of cataracts and may slow the progression of macular degeneration. 

Cancer

"The vitamin C in oranges is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer due to preventing DNA mutations from taking place," Flores said. Studies have shown that about 10 to 15 percent of colon cancers have a mutation in a gene called BRAF

A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that consuming bananas, oranges and orange juice in the first two years of life may reduce the risk of childhood leukemia. 

Health risks

Oranges are great for you, but you should enjoy them in moderation, Flores warned. "Eating too many oranges has some uncomfortable side effects," she said. "When eaten in excess, the greater fiber content can effect digestion, causing abdominal cramps and could also lead to diarrhea."

Though oranges are relatively low in calories, eating several of the fruits in a day can add up and may lead to weight gain. It is also possible to have too much vitamin C (more than 2,000 mg a day). An excess of this nutrient may lead to diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, bloating or cramps, headaches, insomnia, or kidney stones.

"Because they are a high-acid food, [oranges] can contribute to heartburn, especially for those who already suffer [from heartburn] regularly," said Flores. People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, also called acid reflux disease) may experience heartburn or regurgitation if they eat too many oranges.

People who are taking beta-blockers should be careful not to consume too many oranges. These medicines increase potassium levels and, if mixed with too many potassium-rich foods like oranges and bananas, can lead to an excess of potassium in the body. This is a significant concern for people whose kidneys are not fully functional, as the additional potassium will not be effectively removed from the body.

Orange peels: edible or poisonous?

Orange peels are not poisonous and, as many cooks know, orange zest can pack a big flavor punch. While orange peels are edible, they are not nearly as sweet or juicy as the pulp. They can also be difficult to digest and, unless you're eating an organic orange peel, covered in chemicals.

If you do eat the peel, you'll get a good amount of nutrients. "Orange peel actually has more fiber then the fruit inside contains," Flores said. "It also has flavonoids in it that contain nutritious benefits." Flavonoids are compounds found in many foods. They are known to have antihypertensive and anti-inflammatory effects, which relieve pressures on the heart.

Additionally, orange peels contain vitamins A, C, B6 and B5; calcium; riboflavin; thiamin; niacin; and folate. One way to get some of the nutrients is by eating the inner part of the peel and leaving the tough outer part. "The pith of the orange — the white part between the skin and fruit — can be sour or bitter but actually contains just as much vitamin C as the fruit itself, with a good deal of fiber," Flores said.

Orange facts

Some fun facts about oranges include:

  • Oranges originated around 4000 B.C. in Southeast Asia, from which they spread to India.
  • Oranges are unknown in the wild. They are a hybrid of the pomelo, or "Chinese grapefruit" (which is pale green or yellow), and the tangerine.
  • The orange tree is a small tropical to semitropical, evergreen, flowering plant. It grows up to 16 to 26 feet (5 to 8 meters). 
  • Oranges are actually modified berries.
  • The fruit came before the color. The word "orange" derives from the Arabic "naranj" and arrived in English as "narange" in the 14th century, gradually losing the initial "n."
  • "Orange" was first used as the name for a color in 1542.
  • Oranges are classified into two general categories: sweet and bitter. The sweet varieties are the most commonly consumed. Popular varieties of the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) include Valencia, navel and Jaffa oranges, as well as the blood orange, a hybrid species that is smaller in size, more aromatic in flavor and marked by red hues running throughout its flesh.
  • Bitter oranges (Citrus aurantium) are often used to make jam or marmalade, and their zest is used as the flavoring for liqueurs such as Grand Marnier and Cointreau.
  • The name "navel orange" comes from the belly-button formation opposite the fruit's stem end. The bigger the navel, the sweeter the orange.
  • Moorish, Portuguese and Italian traders and explorers introduced sweet oranges into Europe around the 15th century, after finding the fruits on voyages to Asia and the Middle East.
  • Renaissance paintings that display oranges on the table during "The Last Supper" are wrong. Oranges were not cultivated in the Middle East until sometime around the ninth century.
  • Christopher Columbus planted the first orange trees in the Caribbean islands in the late 15th century after he brought the seeds there on his second voyage to the New World.
  • Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon brought oranges to Florida in the 16th century, and Spanish missionaries brought them to California in the 18th century,
  • Commercial oranges are often bright orange because an artificial dye, Citrus Red Number 2, is injected into their skins at the level of 2 parts per million.
  • Oranges can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator. They will generally last the same amount of time, two weeks, with either method, and will retain nearly the same level of vitamin content.
  • The best way to store oranges is loose rather than wrapped in a plastic bag, because they can easily develop mold if exposed to moisture.
  • In 2008, the top five orange-producing countries, by millions of tons produced, were Brazil (18.3), the United States (9.1), Mexico (4.3), India (4.2) and China (3.4).
  • In Spanish, "anaranjear" means, literally, to "orangicate" — to pelt something with oranges.
  • About 85 percent of all oranges produced are used for juice.
  • There are over 600 varieties of oranges worldwide.
  • A typical orange has 10 segments.
  • Orange peel sprinkled over a vegetable garden is an effective slug repellent.
  • The white orange blossom is the state flower of Florida.

(Sources: Top Food Facts, Science Kids & Florida Citrus Commission)

Additional resources

Learn more about oranges and other healthy foods at The World's Healthiest Foods.

Browse the USDA's National Nutrient Database for nutrient content of thousands of different foods.

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