In this article:
- Over 600 varieties of oranges are grown all over the world, particularly in subtropical areas.
- Oranges are packed with nutrients, such as vitamin C and potassium, but with zero fat content, making them an all-round healthy delight.
- This citrusy fruit exhibits significant antioxidant properties as it contains phytochemicals and flavonoids, which can help boost your immune system and preserve your heart health by reducing bad cholesterol.
- Orange juice is also a good source of vital nutrients but should be consumed in moderation to avoid stomach upset, tooth damage, and other undesirable effects.
- Eating one whole orange provides greater health benefits than consuming its juice.
This article will review the different types of oranges and their health benefits. Their wide variety of uses in food products and personal care items will also be discussed.
Anatomy of an Orange
Oranges are a popular fruit around the globe.
Many Americans enjoy a glass of orange juice as part of a healthy breakfast. Some pack oranges into lunch boxes or enjoy these fresh fruits as a snack on the go.
Oranges are usually 2-3 inches in diameter and contain a pulpy, juicy flesh beneath a thick, textured skin.
The peel of the orange is made up of a thin outer layer and a thick inner layer.
The outer layer is called the flavedo and contains carotenoids. The carotenoids give the orange peel its characteristic color.
The inner pulpy layer is called the albedo, which contains flavonoids, d-limonene, limonin, and pectin. These substances may influence the flavor of the fruit’s juice and are often bitter.
The outer peel or crust, which is the only orange part of the peel, is called the exocarp and contains essential oils. These oils are often used to make perfumes and flavorings.
The white part of the peel, the mesocarp, is spongy. It contains more pectin and is used to make jams.
The pulp, or endocarp, is the part that is most often consumed and makes up about 80% of the fruit’s weight. It contains the orange segments – the juice sacks and seeds.
The oil from oranges is distilled from the peel. Its aroma is bright, lively, fruity, and sweet.
Orange peels are also sometimes used by gardeners as a repellent for slugs.
Oranges are used in a variety of products, including flavoring agents, absorbents, binders, fragrances, and hair conditioners. They are also used in soaps, cleansers, skin care products, hair care products, fragrances and perfumes, and detergents.
One medium orange is considered one fruit serving and can be enjoyed up to two to four times per day.
One medium orange contains 70 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, 16 grams of carbohydrate (12 grams are naturally occurring sugars), and 3 grams of fiber. It also contains 100% of your daily needs of vitamin C and about 235 mg of potassium.
Oranges are also a good source of the B vitamins – thiamin (B1) and folate (folic acid or B9). Thiamin plays an important role in the development, growth, and function of all cells in the body. Folate, or folic acid, is important in red blood cell formation and cell growth and function; it is therefore important during pregnancy. (1)
Known for their juicy segments, oranges are a water-rich fruit. They also contain over 170 phytochemicals and 60 flavonoids, both of which are naturally occurring chemical compounds in plants that work as antioxidants and help fight inflammation. (2)
Oranges are low in calories, good sources of water and carbohydrates, and high in fiber and vitamin C. Oranges are rich in antioxidants and nutrients. They may be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet to help reach the daily recommendation for fruit servings.
Health Benefits of Oranges
Oranges may be commonplace, but they are nutrient-dense.
The typical orange contains vitamins A, B, and C, as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, choline, and more.
Dietary fiber improves cholesterol levels, aids in weight loss and maintenance, helps with blood glucose control, and plays a role in digestive health. (3)
Enjoying one medium orange provides about 10% of your daily recommended dietary fiber requirement.
Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants. It helps repair damage in the body and ward off disease. Because they are rich in vitamin C, oranges and orange juice are known to help boost the immune system.
Oranges also contain flavonoids, including hesperetin, naringin, and naringenin, another class of antioxidants. Additionally, they contain alpha and beta carotenes such as zeaxanthin and lutein.
Oranges are also good sources of B vitamins such as thiamin, pyridoxine, and folate. (2)
Benefits to Cardiovascular Health
Oranges are beneficial for heart health. The vitamin C in oranges and orange juice helps reduce plaque formation in the arteries.
Vitamin C also improves nitric oxide production and enhances vasodilation, or the ability of our veins and arteries to adjust their diameter and allow for free blood flow. Both actions improve heart health.
In addition to vitamin C, oranges also contain pectin, which is a soluble fiber. Soluble fibers help to trap cholesterol and shuttle it out of the body. The flavanone hesperidin found in oranges may help lower both cholesterol and blood pressure.
However, the science regarding orange juice consumption is a bit unclear.
One study found that those who drank orange juice had lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and apo B and a lower LDL:HDL ratio. (8) Apo B is a protein that makes up a large part of LDL cholesterol, sometimes also called “bad cholesterol.”
A study also found that commercial orange juice had a more effective impact on lowering blood pressure than natural orange juice, likely due to the former’s greater concentration of flavonoids, pectin, and essential oils. (6)
However, another study found that fruit juice consumption had no effect on total cholesterol, LDL, or HDL but may slightly improve blood pressure. (9)
Current studies have shown both positive and negative effects of oranges and orange juice on cholesterol levels. Further research is needed to determine the impact of oranges on controlling cholesterol levels.
Other Health Benefits
Oranges and orange juice may reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer. It is thought that the flavonoids hesperitin and naringnin may have positive effects against cancer.
Some studies have found that orange juice can reduce the risk of leukemia and cancers of the breast, liver, and colon. Citrus fruits are believed to aid in cancer prevention due to their high vitamin C content, antioxidant properties, and antiproliferative and antimutagenic qualities. (10)
Oranges contain citric acid and citrates, both of which have been shown to prevent kidney stone formation. Patients with kidney stones may be prescribed potassium citrate to help treat them. The citrates found in oranges seem to have similar effects.
In one study, a group of men was prescribed to take potassium citrate and another group was given orange juice. Both groups had similar urinary citrate levels. (11)
Another study found that urinary oxalate levels were similar in orange juice drinkers compared with those given distilled water or lemonade. This result suggested that orange juice consumption could help prevent kidney stone formation. (12)
Additionally, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant components of oranges help to prevent aging by quenching free radicals. Free radicals promote many degenerative diseases and skin aging.
Vitamin C also supports collagen development, which makes the skin smooth and elastic. One study found that the Naragi or Santra orange (C. reticulata Blanco) and its peel can be used effectively in antiwrinkle skincare products. (13)
Oranges may also help with weight loss by reducing oxidative stress, lowering blood lipids and blood glucose, and assisting with liver health. A study found that moderate consumption of 100% orange juice was associated with getting enough nutrients and having a positive diet quality. Additionally, it posed no risk of being overweight or obese in adults or children. (14)
The consumption of apples and oranges may lower the risk of asthma. Many commercially prepared orange juices are fortified with vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to airway sensitivity, increased asthma attacks, and lower lung function in some individuals. Those who are low in vitamin D may be less responsive to asthma medications. (15)
Oranges also reduce the risk of scurvy. Scurvy occurs due to a deficiency in vitamin C for 3 months or longer. Oranges help prevent this condition due to their high vitamin C content.
Rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber, oranges may aid in heart health and cancer prevention. The citric acid and citrates in oranges and orange juice may decrease the risk of kidney stone formation. Oranges may also help support collagen production in the skin and slow the signs of aging due to their high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants.
Types of Oranges
There are two categories of oranges: sweet and bitter.
The sweet varieties are more popular than the bitter varieties. They include the Valencia, Navel, Mandarin, Satsuma, Seville, Hamlin, Jaffa, Clementine, and Pineapple oranges.
Mandarins, which are native to southeast China, are easier to peel, have flatter ends, and tend to have a flatter taste than the other sweet varieties.
Bitter oranges (Citrus aurantium), contrary to what their name might suggest, have multiple culinary uses. They are used to make jams and marmalades that are popular around the world. Their zest is used as a flavoring agent in liqueurs such as Grand Marnier and Cointreau.
While oranges and tangerines look similar, they are not the same. They belong to the same species, but each boasts differences in their shape, smell, and taste. Tangerines tend to be smaller, less sour or tart, and generally peel more easily.
By comparison, grapefruits are larger and heavier, and their flesh is pink or red. They can also be tarter than an orange.
Over the past few years, the blood orange has become widely known and available. This orange is a hybrid species. It contains a red-hued flesh and is more aromatic in flavor. The antioxidant anthocyanin gives this unique variety its deep-red color, hence its name.
Anthocyanin protects the body from oxidative stress, may reduce the risk of heart disease, and improves memory.
There are several varieties of oranges. Sweet oranges are typically enjoyed fresh, and bitter oranges are normally used for culinary purposes.
Choose oranges that are heavy and firm with a fine skin texture. Look for oranges that do not have bruises, blemishes, soft spots, or cuts.
Like all fruits and vegetables, oranges should be washed before they are peeled or cut. Washing prevents the transfer of bacteria from the orange peel to the flesh, which is consumed.
To wash an orange, rub its surface vigorously under clean running water. Dry it thoroughly with a towel.
Oranges can be stored for up to 3 months at 52 ºF or up to 5 months at 36 ºF, making them a staple that can be enjoyed year-round.
During the transportation of oranges, moisture can be lost from the peel and pulp, resulting in the deterioration in their quality. When stored at 68 ºF and relative humidity of 60%-80% for 2 months, Valencia oranges lose almost 10% of their moisture from their peel, but only 2% from the pulp.
As moisture is lost, the peel becomes thinner until it is very thin, dry, and brittle. However, the pulp will often still be juicy and edible.
Coating oranges with a thin layer of polyethylene and wax emulsion can double their storage life.
Choose firm and ripe fruits and wash before eating. Stored properly, oranges can be enjoyed fresh for months.
Orange Juice or Whole Orange?
Orange juice is a good source of potassium, folate, and magnesium. (16) That said, fruit juices should be enjoyed in moderation as part of an otherwise healthy diet. Drinking orange juice can help individuals meet the daily recommended fruit intake. (14)
Generally speaking, eating the whole fruit is preferable to drinking the fruit juice. When fruit is pressed and squeezed to collect the juice, some of the nutrients are lost, including the water-soluble vitamins.
Fiber, found in the pulp, is often discarded during the juicing process. While the juice does contain some nutrients, it is not as wholesome as the nutrient-dense whole fruit.
The powerful flavonoids are found in the white pulpy part and pith of the orange. When the orange is eaten whole, many pieces of the white pulp and pith are consumed. When it is juiced, these parts are often discarded.
While orange juice contains healthy vitamins and minerals, it lacks fiber and some nutrients that are degraded and discarded in the juicing process. It is recommended to enjoy orange juice in moderation and opt for the whole fruit whenever possible.
Safety of Eating Oranges
In general, oranges are safe to consume.
While rare, orange and citrus allergies do exist. Symptoms of an allergy appear after eating or drinking raw citrus or, for some, even after touching the fruit.
Symptoms include redness and swelling of the lips and gums; tingling and/or itching of the lips, tongue, and throat; and contact dermatitis.
Contact dermatitis is a red, inflamed, and sometimes itchy rash that appears when the skin comes into direct contact with an offending substance. The condition is not life threatening or contagious but can cause discomfort.
In very rare cases, citrus allergies can cause anaphylaxis.
Those who develop contact dermatitis after touching a citrus fruit are most likely allergic to the compound limonene, which is found in the orange peel.
As limonene is sometimes found in fragrances, perfumes, skin care products, hair care products, and cosmetics, allergic individuals may also experience a reaction to these products.
People who develop contact dermatitis in response to citrus fruits and their oils should avoid products that contain derivatives of citrus.
One case report, published in 2012, noted a young boy who developed food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome beginning 1 to 2 hours after drinking orange juice. Sometimes called a delayed food allergy, food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome causes vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and very low blood pressure. (17)
Currently, no cure exists for a citrus allergy, but there are ways to manage your symptoms. The best ways are to avoid all citrus, be cautious of any products that may contain or have been in contact with raw citrus, and read labels.
Oranges may be eaten on an empty stomach without problem. Oranges are not considered to be keto friendly, so individuals following a ketogenic diet may have a hard time fitting them into their meal plan.
Oranges are generally safe for everyone to enjoy, but citrus allergies exist and can cause contact dermatitis. Those who have an orange or citrus fruit allergy or a skin reaction to citrus oils should be cautious of products containing orange, orange juice, or orange oils.
Can You Eat Orange Peels and Seeds?
Orange peels are rich in flavonoids and phytochemicals, as well as calcium, copper, magnesium, vitamin A, folate, and B vitamins. They tend to be bitter in flavor but can be eaten safely.
Orange seeds may also be consumed. The seeds of citrus fruits do contain small amounts of cyanide compounds, but the seeds of an average orange do not contain enough cyanide to be toxic or harmful.
Orange seeds can be blended into smoothies, but it is best to avoid eating them if possible.
Eating Oranges During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Oranges are safe to consume throughout pregnancy in moderation. Because they provide vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, and potassium, along with other vitamins and minerals, they are a healthy choice.
Breastfeeding mothers need more vitamin C than during pregnancy, so women may continue to enjoy oranges while nursing.
Vitamin C helps the body better absorb iron from plant sources, so oranges are a smart addition to a regular healthy diet.
Potential Drug Interactions
Depending on the medication’s active ingredient, orange juice can reduce the efficacy of a drug or can create potentially dangerous drug levels in the body.
Oranges can interact with the transporters in the intestine that absorb medications. When this happens, less of the medication can reach the bloodstream, therefore limiting the benefit or improvement a patient expects with treatment.
Oranges can also interfere with enzymes that are responsible for breaking down medications in your digestive system. This can amplify or enhance how much of the medication is absorbed into the bloodstream, which can be dangerous.
Orange and apple juices may lower the absorption of the anticancer agent etoposide and some beta-blockers such as atenolol, celiprolol, and talinol. Additionally, the absorption of some antibiotics, including ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, and itraconazole, may also be affected.
If you take an ACE inhibitor, such as captopril, lisinopril, and enalapril, avoid consuming too many oranges or too much orange juice.
ACE inhibitors relax your blood vessels and increase the amount of potassium in your body. Too much potassium can cause serious issues such as heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat. Overconsumption of oranges, which are rich in potassium, may lead to a buildup of potassium in the bloodstream. (18)
Talk with your physician or pharmacist about consuming citrus fruits while on medication.
Oranges are generally considered safe to eat in moderation. Oranges and orange juice can interact with certain medications. If you are taking a drug that interacts with oranges, avoid oranges, orange juice, and orange products. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about any medications that may interact with citrus and oranges.
Because oranges are so popular, many products contain oranges. Every part of the fruit is used, including the juice, flesh, pulp, and zest from the peel.
Some common orange products are:
- Orange jam
- Orange jelly
- Orange marmalade
- Orange juice
- Orange salad
- Orange gelatins
- Orange mousse
- Orange drinks
- Dried oranges
- Candied orange peels
- Orange sauce
- Baked oranges
- Orange used in a variety of baked goods, such as cakes, pies, and muffins
Candied Orange Peel Recipe
Want to take advantage of the nutrient-rich orange peels? Try candying to preserve them for months!
- 2 large oranges, peels and flesh separated, 1/4 inch of the top and bottom cut off
- 4 cups sugar, divided into 3 cups and 1 cup
- 3 cups water
- Cut the orange into six to eight wedges.
- Remove the peel from each fruit orange wedge, keeping the peel intact into one piece.
- Cut the peel into strips.
- Bring the water to a boil. Add the peel. Boil for 15 minutes; drain, rinse, and drain again.
- Put 3 cups of sugar and 3 of cups water into a medium-sized saucepan.
- Place the pan over medium heat until this mixture comes to a boil. Keep stirring it so that sugar gets completely dissolved.
- Once the sugar is dissolved, add the peel. Return to a boil.
- Spread 1 cup of sugar on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Transfer the peel onto the sheet and then separate the strips from each other.
- Lift the sugar-glazed peels and place them on a sheet of foil. Leave the strips be for at least 1-2 days, or until the coating becomes dry, after which you can wrap and freeze them for up to 2 months.
Oranges are nutrient-rich fruits that provide a large dose of vitamin C, as well as other vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Because of this nutrient profile, they should be included in a healthy diet to help prevent disease and to enjoy a healthy immune system and glowing skin.
Oranges are popular and widely available year-round, and if stored properly, they keep fresh for months. Because of their thick peels, they are easy to carry around as a snack at any time.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Brierley Horton, MS, RD
There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” time of the day to eat oranges. Enjoy them with any meal that you desire or as a snack, .
Too much vitamin C, which oranges are rich in, yes, can upset your stomach.
Yes, it is.
Oranges are a great source of vitamin C, a nutrient that keeps our immune system humming along, keeps our skin healthy, and potentially helps to ward off wrinkles. They also deliver ample fiber and potassium – two key nutrients that people fall short of regularly.
About Ms. Brierley Horton, MS, RD: Brierley is a registered dietitian and an experienced writer and editor who strives daily for innovative ways to inspire people to be healthier. She previously served as a Food and Nutrition Director for Cooking Light, a women’s lifestyle brand of Meredith Corporation.
Prior to Cooking Light, Brierley was the long-time Nutrition Editor at Eating Well magazine. Brierley has also appeared on national and local broadcasts, including TODAY, Access Hollywood Live, Better TV, and MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts.