The Health Benefits of Oranges Go Well Beyond Vitamin C

Yes, there's a lot of vitamin C in oranges, but the health benefits of oranges are plenty. Here's everything this juicy citrus fruit has going for it.

two oranges still on the tree, close-up photo
Photo: Barbara Rich/Getty

If the word “orange” were to pop up during a game of Catch Phrase, there’s a hard chance the first clue you’d scream to your teammates after “round fruit” is “vitamin C.” And while this definitive, good-for-you quality of all navels, cara caras, and valencias (all different varieties of oranges, BTW) would definitely score you the winning point, it’s not the only health benefit of oranges.

“The beauty of an orange is the combination of all of its nutrients — it's the package,” says registered dietician Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Here’s exactly what’s included in this softball-sized fruit, plus easy ways to incorporate it into your diet when you don’t want to eat a slice straight up.

What Are Oranges?

As you may have guessed, oranges — sweet oranges, in particular, being the ones you know and love — belong to the Citrus family, which also includes fruits such as lemons, limes, and grapefruits, according to the Colorado School of Public Health. The fruit grows on trees, which also bear sweet-smelling white flowers.

The makeup of an orange is layered: If you inspect an orange's outer rind, you'll notice that it has a slightly bumpy texture; those divots are actually glands that contain essential oil, per Purdue University's College of Agriculture. When you peel into the fruit, you're met with the white inner rind, which is spongy and non-aromatic. The fruit that's actually eaten are those wedges inside, which are usually 10 to 12 in number. And if you've ever looked reeeally close at the fruit of an orange, you'll notice that each wedge is made up of bunches of smaller pieces — these are membranous sacs, which house the juice you taste when you take a bite, according to Purdue University's College of Agriculture.

Oranges Nutrition Facts

You first learned this fact back in your middle school health class, but it’s worth repeating. Oranges are an amazing source of vitamin C, which has myriad health benefits (more on the specifics in a sec). The fruit also contains a good amount of fiber, which can fill you up and aid in healthy digestion.

Here is the nutrition information for one orange, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • 62 calories
  • 1 gram protein
  • <1 gram fat
  • 16 grams carbohydrate
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 12 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Oranges

Now that you've read up on the nutrition facts of oranges, let's dig in to the specific health benefits that oranges can offer.

Strengthen Your Immune System

One of the most significant health benefits of oranges is their vitamin C content, which is about 70 milligrams (or 93 percent of the recommended dietary allowance) in a medium-sized fruit, according to the USDA. This potent antioxidant may help strengthen the immune system by stimulating the production and improving the function of white blood cells — including the specific cells that attack foreign bacteria and viruses — and increasing levels of existing antibodies that help fight off foreign antigens, according to research. This antioxidant power also helps block some of the damage caused by free radicals, which are made when you’re exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation and can lead to skin aging, cancer, heart disease, and arthritis over time, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Keep You Feeling and Looking Bright

All that vitamin C? It can make you feel and look your best — there's a reason that so many vitamin C skin-care serums exist. In your body, the nutrient plays a key role in the absorption of iron, which helps make red blood cells. Without absorbing adequate amounts of iron, there’s a good chance you’ll feel sluggish and tired, says Gans.

Plus, vitamin C may help you achieve that sought-after healthy glow by helping your body produce collagen — a protein that’s essential to keeping your skin smooth, firm, and strong, adds Gans. How? The nutrient helps stabilize the collagen molecule structure, stimulates messenger RNA molecules, and tells the skin's fibroblasts (the cells in your connective tissue) to create collagen, according to an article in the journal Nutrients.

Easy Source of Fiber

If you’re in a monstrous snack-attack mode, consider reaching for an orange. A medium orange has about 3 grams of fiber, according to the USDA, which can help you feel satisfied, explains Gans. “Even a simple orange as a dessert to a meal can help fill you up so you’re not hungry two hours later,” she says. More good news: Fiber can help lower cholesterol levels and prevent constipation, adds Gans. Your gut will definitely be sending you a thank-you note for this nutritious choice.

Help Prevent Birth Defects

Notably, oranges have folate, a nutrient that helps make DNA, aids in cell division, and is essential in reducing the risk of neural tube defects (aka malformations of the spine, skull, and brain) that occur within the first three to four weeks after conception, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is why you hear ob-gyns suggest a prenatal vitamin regimen than includes folate. Since nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned and gestation defects may happen early in the pregnancy, the NIH recommends those who are able to become pregnant get 400 micrograms of the nutrient even if they’re not trying to conceive. Luckily, oranges can help you get one step closer to hitting that target, packing 29 micrograms per small fruit.

Aid In Lowering Blood Pressure

While bananas are known for being the potassium superstar in the supermarket’s produce section, oranges can help you get your fill of this mineral too. One medium orange boasts 237 milligrams of potassium, according to the USDA, while one cup of freshly squeezed OJ has 496 milligrams (or 11 percent of the recommended dietary allowance).

Along with helping your kidneys and heart function properly, this health benefit of oranges may help decrease blood pressure. High sodium intake is linked with high blood pressure, meaning the heart pumps more blood and the arteries are narrower than normal. When you consume potassium, your blood vessels widen and you excrete more sodium through your urine. This process minimizes the force of your blood against the arteries and reduces the volume — and thus size — of plasma (which carries salt, water, and enzymes) in the blood, ultimately lowering blood pressure, according to the NIH.

Promote Good Eye Health

The nutrient that gives an orange its signature vibrant color could also improve overall eye health. Oranges contain 14.4 micrograms of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, a compound that may play a role in reducing the risk of age-related eye diseases that lead to vision loss, according to an article in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging. Vitamin A is also an essential component of rhodopsin, a protein that absorbs light in the retina, and supports the functioning of the cornea, per the NIH. “Just know that you’re not going to see an improvement in your vision unless you’re deficient in it,” notes Gans. Since oranges offer just 2 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A for women, make sure to also load up on sweet potatoes, spinach, and carrots to hit that quota.

Potential Risks of Oranges

Yes, it's possible to have too much of a good thing — namely fiber. Oranges are full of the macronutrient, which means that if you eat massive amounts of citrus — meaning more than a few oranges a day — you may experience side effects such as bloating, cramping, or nausea. If you feel any of these symptoms cropping up, curb your citrus intake.

How to Buy and Eat Oranges

You'll find oranges just about anywhere that sells fruit — look for ones that feel heavy and have a smooth, firm outer peel. To maintain their freshness, store oranges in the crisper drawer in your fridge. When stored at that cooler temp, oranges can last up to five months, according to the Purdue College of Agriculture. That said, they'll lose their juiciness and may get moldy as time goes on, so it's better to eat them soon-ish after buying.

If it's orange juice you're after, you have options. You can buy orange juice with pulp or without, with people usually choosing between the two based on their personal preference. There are benefits to drinking as much of the pulp as you can tolerate, though. That pulp is full of the orange's fiber, which means the more your juice is strained, the less of that good stuff you'll get.

Also, you'll want to check the label to see what percent of the drink you opt for is fruit juice — ideally, you want to go with 100 percent fruit juice without any added sugar. The lower that percentage, the more additives have been put in your juice and the less healthy it will be as a result. And, although oranges are already filled with vitamin C, you can also grab juices that are fortified with the vitamin, and often with calcium as well.

Once you've got your oranges or orange juice home, there are plenty of ways to use them. While simply peeling the fruit and munching on a slice will help you reap the health benefits of oranges, it’s not the most creative way to get this package of nutrients.

In your salad. Try adding orange slices to a salad for a burst of fresh flavor — you won't be disappointed.

As a grilled side dish. Next time you fire up the grill, bring out some oranges and add them to the heat for five to 10 minutes for a charred side dish.

Dipped in chocolate. In need of a decadent dessert? (Honestly, who isn't?) Peel an orange, then dip each wedge in melted dark chocolate for an easy yet satisfying dessert, suggests Gans.

To brighten up a smoothie. If you have freshly squeezed or bottled, 100-percent orange juice on hand, incorporate some into a smoothie such as this pineapple, orange, and banana smoothie or this orange protein smoothie.

As a dinnertime flavoring agent. While they make a great snack, oranges taste great at the dinner table too. Try mixing some orange juice into a marinade or dressing, which will add a naturally occurring sweetness and extra health benefits, recommends Gans.

In your drink. Squeeze a bit of orange juice into your go-to cocktail; this Sparkling Cosmo recipe calls for orange juice and some zest. “Better yet, freeze the juice into ice cubes and drop them in seltzer or add them to vodka for a cocktail — that would be so delicious,” says Gans.

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