We all know the proverb "an apple a day," but equally an orange could be recommended. There are thousands of reasons why eating an orange a day is a good idea; they are low in calories but full of nutrients, they promote clear, healthy skin and can help to lower our risk for many diseases and conditions as part of an overall healthy and varied diet.
Orange trees are the most cultivated fruit trees in the world. Oranges are a popular fruit because of their natural sweetness, wide variety of types and diversity of uses - from juices and marmalades to face masks and candied orange slices.
An orange has over 170 different phytochemicals and more than 60 flavonoids, many of which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and strong antioxidant effects.6
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of the fruit and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more oranges into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming oranges.
Nutritional breakdown of oranges
One orange provides a range of vitamins and minerals; a staggering 130 percent of your vitamin C needs for the day.
One medium orange (approximately 154 grams) contains 80 calories, 0 grams of fat, 250 milligrams of potassium, 19 grams of carbohydrate (14 grams of sugar and 3 grams of dietary fiber) as well as 1 gram of protein.
One orange provides 130 percent of your vitamin C needs for the day, 2 percent of vitamin A needs, 6 percent of calcium and 0 percent of iron.
Oranges also contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, selenium and copper. Because of their high vitamin C content (over twice the daily need) oranges are associated with boosting the immune system.
Oranges also contain choline, zeaxanthin, and carotenoids.
Choline is an important nutrient found in oranges that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.2
Possible health benefits of consuming oranges
Stroke: According to the American Heart Association, eating higher amounts of a compound found in citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit may lower ischemic stroke risk for women. Those who ate the highest amounts of citrus had a 19 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least. 5
Blood pressure: Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, however increasing potassium intake may be just as important because of its vasodilation effects. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2 percent of US adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation.3
Also of note, a high potassium intake is associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes.3
Cancer: According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, consuming bananas, oranges and orange juice in the first two years of life may reduce the risk of developing childhood leukemia.
As an excellent source of the strong antioxidant vitamin C, oranges can also help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer. While an adequate vitamin C intake is necessary and very beneficial as an antioxidant, the amount necessary to consume for therapeutic purposes for cancer is beyond oral intake.1 High fiber intakes from fruits and vegetables are associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
Heart health: The fiber, potassium, vitamin C and choline content in oranges all support heart health. An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most important dietary change that a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Mark Houston, M.D, M.S, an associate clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School and director of the Hypertension Institute at St. Thomas Hospital in Tennessee.3
In one study, those who consumed 4069 mg of potassium per day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1000 mg per day).3
High potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.3
Diabetes: Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One medium banana provides about 3 grams of fiber.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.
Skin: The antioxidant vitamin C, when eaten in its natural form (as in an orange) or applied topically, can help to fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles and improve overall skin texture. Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the support system of your skin
How to incorporate more oranges into your diet
There are a variety of orange types on offer that can aid in various conditions from heart health to diabetes.
Oranges should be picked at their peak of ripeness because unlike some other fruits, they do not ripen or improve in quality after being picked. Oranges should be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight.
While it is hard to find good fruits and vegetables in the winter, it is the perfect time to buy citrus. Winter is the peak season for oranges and other citrus fruits.
There are many different types of oranges available such as navel, mandarin, cara cara, blood oranges, Valencia and Seville oranges just to name a few. Some are very sweet and others have more of a sour taste.
- Keep a bowl on the kitchen table or counter stocked with fresh fruit from the season. Seeing the fruits readily available will likely cause you to choose them as a snack more often rather than raiding the cupboards for a less healthy snack.
- Make a fruit salad with strawberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges and grapes.
- Add some orange slices to your salad at lunch or dinner. Compliment the oranges with walnuts or pecans, a crumbled cheese and a light balsamic or citrus vinaigrette dressing.
- Make your own juice! Nothing tastes better than freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning. When you make your own, you can be sure there are no added preservatives or sweeteners.
Risks and precautions
Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods such as oranges and bananas should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.
Those with gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) may experience an increase in symptoms such as heartburn and regurgitation when consuming highly acidic foods such as citrus fruit, however individual reactions vary.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by: Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist