These Grapefruit Benefits Go Way Beyond Nutrition

From antioxidant-rich snack to natural bug repellant, grapefruit is a standout star among citrus fruit.

Photo: virusowy/Getty

Grapefruits are a wonder in the fruit world, and by that, I mean their benefits go well beyond what they can do for your body. Seriously — this tangy citrus can star in culinary creations and skin-care products, and even serve as a bug repellant.

Earlier in August, the Environmental Protection Agency approved a new ingredient that repels and kills bugs called nootkatone — aka the organic compound responsible for grapefruit's bright, citrus smell. The catch: Grapefruit bug repellant products likely won't be available until 2022, according to the EPA. That's because any commercial products containing nootkatone will need to be tested for safety and efficacy and registered by the EPA separately before hitting shelves. In the meantime, however, you can use the citrus in a myriad of other creative ways and still reap grapefruit's many benefits.

Read on to learn more about this star of the citrus world, from its health benefits to skin-care potential.

A Little Grapefruit History

Hailing from subtropical climates, grapefruit is a citrus hybrid — the bittersweet (and beloved) result of a cross between a sweet orange and pummelo, according to research published in the American Society for Horticulture Science. They're normally harvested in the fall and winter in the U.S., where Texas is one of the top producers of the notably-sweeter red grapefruit and Florida of the slighter tarter pink and white varieties, according to Texas Monthly. Internationally, grapefruit is also grown in Israel, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Southern Africa, and Australia, making it available practically year-long in local supermarkets.

Grapefruit Nutrition Facts

All varieties of this fruit are downright succulent, and that's because each medium-sized grapefruit (~4-inch diameter, 256 grams) is saturated with more than 230 grams of water, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Think of it this way: That's about the amount of one 8-ounce glass of water — or 1/8 of the daily recommended amount of H2O (eight 8-ounce glasses or 64 ounces). So having grapefruit for breakfast? That's a step in the right direction to meeting those daily hydration goals (which is important because basically every system in the body relies on water). In addition to H2O, "grapefruits are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, fiber, and are low in calories," says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian based in New York City.

This brightly-hued fruit is also packed with high levels of bone-strengthening calcium, mood-boosting magnesium, and beta-carotene, a carotenoid the body converts into the vitamin A that supports immune system functions, skin and vision health, and more, according to the National Library of Medicine. Grapefruit also contains large amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that is responsible for the citrus' coloring and plays a role in preventing certain cancers and eye-related diseases.

Here, a nutrition snapshot for one medium-sized grapefruit, according to the USDA:

  • 52 calories
  • 1.61 grams protein
  • < 0.5 gram fat
  • 21 grams carbohydrate
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 18 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Grapefruit

"Many of the health benefits attributed to grapefruit are due to its high antioxidant content," says Alice Figueroa, M.P.H., R.D.N, a nutrition researcher based in New Orleans and founder of Alice in Foodieland. "Grapefruit is rich in antioxidants including vitamin C, lycopene, beta-carotene, and flavanones (a type of flavonoid)." Get this: One medium-sized citrus has 88.1 mg of vitamin C, which is 117 percent of the daily recommended amount for most adult women (75 mg), according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Woah.

So, why is this a BFD? Because vitamin C, as well as the other all-star antioxidants in this juicy orb, have the power to repair damage to cells and DNA caused by free radicals, which are "unstable, reactive molecules" from environmental pollutants, thus helping to reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, strokes, cancer, among others, explains Figueroa. This free-radical protection shows up in the benefits of grapefruit skin-care products too (as explained more below). (

Other grapefruit benefits include:

Supports the Immune System

"Grapefruit is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, which both help maintain a well-balanced immune system," says Figueroa. "Vitamin A plays a role in reducing inflammation and supporting immune health, and it has been shown to contribute to the effectiveness of treatments for infections like acute pneumonia."

Then there's vitamin C: "Intake of vitamin C has been linked to quicker recovery from the common cold," says Figueroa, who adds that the immune-boosting nutrient is also touted for its ability to produce a protein called collagen. And that's a pretty big deal because our body requires collagen to help wounds heal, according to the NIH, as well as strengthen bones and joints, and plump and smooth out skin. (

Promotes Heart Health

A 2012 study found that people who ate grapefruit three times daily for six weeks experienced significant reductions in blood pressure and improved total cholesterol (which included lower levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol). One possible reason for these heart-healthy results is grapefruit's impressive amount of potassium, which "plays a role in regulating our blood pressure," according to Gans. (See also: 15 Incredibly Delicious Foods That Lower Cholesterol)

Figueroa also points to the high content of soluble and insoluble fiber in grapefruit. "Regular intake of foods rich in soluble fiber has been shown to contribute to lower cholesterol levels, which are beneficial in the management of high blood pressure and [prevention of] heart disease."

Helps with Digestion

Not only does soluble fiber help keep your ticker, well, ticking, but it also helps your digestive system run smoothly. "Soluble fiber absorbs water as it passes through the digestive system, which helps provide bulk to your stool and healthy bowel movements by preventing constipation and diarrhea," says Figueroa. "Insoluble fiber helps keep you regular, softens stools, and, thus, promotes less strenuous bowel movements." (

Boosts Weight Loss

Grapefruit is high in nutrients and low in calories and is known to curb appetite because of its high fiber and water content, which makes this citrus fruit an ideal snack for those looking to meet certain weight goals. Science backs this up: A study of 91 obese subjects found that those who ate half of a fresh grapefruit before meals lost more weight than those who didn't chow down on the citrus.

"Generally, fiber-rich foods that are incorporated into well-balanced meals that include whole grains, protein, and healthy fats can help you feel full and satisfied for longer periods of time, which can help prevent overeating," says Figueroa. Specifically, foods with insoluble fiber, such as grapefruit, reduce your appetite and leave you feeling fuller while eating less, according to research from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (

Controls Diabetes & Blood Sugar

When it comes to the health benefits of grapefruit, you'll notice fiber comes into play again and again. On top of all the previously mentioned body benefits, the fiber in grapefruit may also help lower blood sugar. "Soluble fiber helps food to be more slowly digested as it moves through the digestive system," says Figueroa. "When food is more slowly digested, it prevents spikes in blood sugar."

Remember the aforementioned weight loss study? Well, in addition to slimming down, the participants who ate half a grapefruit prior to meals also experienced reduced insulin resistance. Translation: The lower your insulin resistance, the more control you have over your blood sugar levels, thereby reducing your risk for diseases such as diabetes. (Speaking of which...make sure to know these subtle diabetes symptoms in women.)

Brightens Your Skin

Grapefruit's many antioxidants "help neutralize free radicals, which cause damage to the skin including degradation and discoloration," according to Mary Stevenson, M.D. a dermatologic surgeon based in New York City. You can score grapefruit's skin benefits by both eating the citrus (as part of an overall "diet high in antioxidants," says Dr. Stevenson) and applying it topically. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin C Skin Care)

"While vitamin C serum can help, SPF and retinoids, in addition to other possible brightening agents, pack a lot more in for your effort," says Dr. Stevenson. If you want to give grapefruit skin-care products a-go, you might try: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Foaming Scrub (Buy It, $10, — one of the best face scrubsOdacité Gr + G Grapeseed-Grapefruit Serum Concentrate (Buy It, $36,, or Malin + Goetz Grapefruit Face Cleanser (Buy It, $36,

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Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Foaming Scrub

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Foaming Scrub
02 of 03

Odacité Gr + G Grapeseed-Grapefruit Serum Concentrate

Odacité Gr + G Grapeseed-Grapefruit Oily/Acne Prone Serum Concentrate
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Malin + Goetz Grapefruit Face Cleanser

Malin + Goetz Grapefruit Face Cleanser

Grapefruit and Medication

While the health benefits of grapefruit are a-plenty, consuming the citrus is not without its risks. "It is important to understand that grapefruit contains naturally occurring chemicals and compounds that interfere with [certain] drugs and medications," says Figueroa.

Many drugs are broken down or metabolized with the help of an enzyme called CYP3A4 that's primarily found in the small intestine. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice, however, can block this enzyme, thereby interfering with metabolization, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "This can make drugs stay in your system longer, causing increased side effects from the medication, or it can make your body excrete drugs faster from your system, making the drugs less effective," explains Figueroa. (See also: How Dietary Supplements Can Interact with Your Prescription Drugs)

So how do you know which meds should not be mixed with grapefruit? The FDA has a comprehensive list on its website that includes some anti-anxiety, allergy, and blood pressure drugs, to name a few. Still, experts recommend checking with a pharmacist, physician, and/or registered dietitian before consuming grapefruit or grapefruit juice if you are taking any Rx or over-the-counter medications.

How to Cut and Eat Grapefruit

There are three sections of a grapefruit: the rind (yellow-orange outer skin), the pith (white stuff that surrounds the fruit), and the flesh (juicy fruit you eat).

"Grapefruit skin or rind is edible and you can use it for baking or cooking," explains Figueroa. "The skin is a good source of antioxidants and phytochemicals, which are key to a balanced immune system and healthy aging." (

If you're game to eat the skin, remember to thoroughly wash the grapefruit to remove any dirt or pesticide residue, says Figueroa, who likes to use a Microplane/grater (Buy It, $15, to zest the fruit or a sharp peeler (Buy It, $9, to remove the skin from the pith. The pith is both edible and rich in fiber but can be very bitter, so Figueroa wouldn't "recommend you add it to cake," for example. And the same is true for the grapefruit seeds, although, it's worth noting that not all varieties have seeds.

Now, the moment you've been waiting for: how to cut a grapefruit. While there are many techniques (and YouTube is full of tutorials), the easiest way to cut a grapefruit half. Sure, it's not ground-breaking but when you slice the citrus down the middle, you can just spoon out the flesh — and, violá, an easy, on-the-go snack. (BTW, you can do the same thing with kiwis.)

Not in a rush? Good for you, girl. Instead of just slicing-and-spooning, take the time to peel the rind and cut the flesh into wedges for a salad or check out these totally creative grapefruit recipes.

Now you know why grapefruits are a standout among other citrus fruits; they cook, they brighten, and they keep bugs away.

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