Benefits of Oranges

Oranges were the most commonly produced and consumed fruit of the 20th century: this popular fruit is a hybrid of a variety of more basic citrus fruits. The orange of today is primarily Mandarin, with its agricultural roots in China – where it was first farmed and cultivated. The fruit is a member of the citrus super-family and has been considered a healthy part of the diet for many decades – for example, marathon runners and soccer players are generally believed to eat oranges during exercise and the consumption of oranges has been linked to preventing scurvy among sailors in the past. The fruit is also the basis for the word “orange” in European culture and language [1]

Micronutrients and Health Benefits

The orange is a far superior choice to the apple when it comes to micronutrients and the immune system. The orange has been hyped as a great source of vitamin C for the past century: a single orange contains 60-65% of the daily recommended dose, meaning that it would only take one orange and a relatively healthy diet in order to achieve 100%. Vitamin C is primarily useful for the maintenance of skin health and immune function. Comparing this to apples and bananas, which contain anywhere between 5 and 12%, it is clear that the orange is the best popular fruit for vitamin C. Additionally, the orange contains a great deal more Vitamin A than its close competitors, the apple and banana. Where the humble apple contains around 73IU, and the banana around 75IU, the orange has an average content of 270IU per single portion. Deficiency in Vitamin A is deadly and is associated with poor vision, ineffective gene-writing (linked to severe genetic conditions and cancers), poor immune function and the creation of new blood cells. These processes are essential to health and make Vitamin A one of the most important dietary vitamins.

Relative to the calorie content, oranges also contain a moderate amount of vitamins B1 and B9, Thiamine and Folate respectively. Deficiency in B vitamins generally have severe consequences and Thiamine is no exception: deficiency in this vitamin has been noted to degrade cognitive abilities, nerve damage, metabolic coma and even death. Folate is a very popular dietary supplement under the name ‘folic acid’, and with good reason: Folate is associated with the construction of health DNA and RNA, as well as regulation of blood quality and heart health. Folate cannot be synthesized in the body, so it is even more important to consume it through the diet [4].

Choline is an important micronutrient and Oranges are among the highest in Choline of all fruits. Choline can be utilised in the body for a variety of ways, but it is primarily important for the health on a cellular level. Choline is used for the creation and maintenance of health cell membranes, as well as proper neuro-transmission and protecting against brain-degradation illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease. If the goal is longevity, there is a lot to be said for the humble orange.

Oranges also out-class both apples and bananas when it comes to a variety of minerals. For example, the orange contains almost twice as much magnesium as an average apple (13g vs 7g, respectively) – an essential mineral that many humans are deficient in  – as well as phosphorous(again, 18g vs 9.5 grams, respectively) and potassium (237mg vs 158mg). This should demonstrate that the cultural focus placed on apples as a health-maintaining fruit has only detracted from the superior vitamin and mineral content of the orange.

Oranges also contain a variety of phytonutrients similar to apples, primarily in the form of carotenoids. These small compounds have been associated with reduced risks of cancer when regularly consumed [5]. Aside from this, other phytochemicals such as naringenin (likely named after the orange) are present in the fruit and initial research suggests that there are both anti-oxidant [6] and anti-inflammatory [7] functions in mammals.

Calories and Macronutrients

The orange is particularly low in calories, even among fruits, with approximately 47 calories per 100g of fruit [2]. The constitution of these calories is typical of fruit: a great number of carbohydrates with almost no protein or fat content. The typical orange contains 9-10g of sugar, with around 2.5g of dietary fiber. This makes it suitable for intra-workout nutrition and is likely why it has achieved a reputation for being the food of choice for competitive endurance athletes.

This sugar content, however, has its negative impacts as well. The small size of the orange, relative to its sugar content, makes it easy to over-eat sugars through the consumption of several oranges in a day. The consumption of excess sugar has been linked to a variety of dental and metabolic issues [3] and we should be cautious about an excessive intake – even if this is from fruit sources.

Whilst the two are notoriously different, oranges are far richer in protein (by mass) than apples or a variety of other popular fruits. At a single gram of protein in a regular orange and far fewer fats at approximately 0.1g per 100g of fruit. It is important to remember that the macronutrients and calories associated with actual oranges are drastically different from products such as orange juice or marmalades, both of which include the addition of extra sugar. Orange-based products tend to be excessively sweetened to address the tart taste of citric acid.

Practical Uses

What strengths the Orange has in the area of calorie-scarcity and nutrient-density, it lacks in versatility. The skin is incredibly unpleasant to eat and the pith is often not eaten, despite containing a high amount of dietary fiber. Unlike the banana or apple, the orange cannot be widely implemented into smoothies, protein shakes or baked goods. This is primarily because it is a citrus fruit and has a Ph of 2.5-4, making it incredibly acidic, as well as being incredibly low in starches: the majority of an orange is liquid and there is very little “flesh” to speak of. There are very few health-positive uses for the orange – whilst it may be possible to make a delicious tarte tatin using oranges, this is far from healthy.

Oranges should be consumed primarily as a snack, though they can be paired with slower-digesting foods – either high in healthy fats or fibre – in order to maximize the positive effects and buffer against the high sugar content. Their use during exercise has already been noted but it is worth mentioning that the anti-oxidants are useful to defend against oxidative stress which occurs during exercise, provide sugar to fuel exercise and the high-water content will ensure that we stay hydrated. The orange is the best fruit we have discussed to be eaten raw, though it is less versatile or filling than apples or bananas due to the high water content and the low presence of starches – these also tend to be the reasons that it is so low in calories relative to weight.

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References : 

[1] USDA national nutrient database for standard reference [URL =]
[2] Paterson, I (2003): ‘A dictionary of colour: a lexicon of the language of colour’. London: Thorogood. P.280
[4] Pommerville, J (2009): ‘Alcamo’s fundamentals of Microbiology: body systems’. Jones & Bartlett publishers. P.511
[5] Vieira et al (2016): ‘Fruits, vegetables and lung cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis’. Annals of Oncology, 27(1), pp.81-96
[6] Jun et al (2005): ‘Antioxidant activity of citrus limonoids, flavonoids and coumarins’. Journal of agricultural and food studies, 53(6), pp.2009-2014
[7] Kawaguchi et al (2004): ‘Suppression of infection-induced endotoxin shock in mice by a citrus flavanone naringin’. Planta medica, 70(1), pp.17-22