Depending on the orange and the variety, you can get about 70% of your daily recommended amount of vitamin C in one orange. Also called ascorbic acid, vitamin C does much more than boost your immune system. It also helps your body store and absorb iron. Your body needs it to heal and to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and bone collagen.
One medium orange has 3 grams of dietary fiber. Fiber doesn't just ward off or ease constipation. It also keeps your bowels healthy, lowers cholesterol, and controls your blood sugar levels. The fiber in oranges also helps you feel full longer. That means you'll eat less and find it easier to maintain a healthy weight. You'll also lower your chances of diabetes, heart disease, and some kinds of cancers.
Each orange has more than 170 phytochemicals and 60 flavonoids. That means they're packed with anti-inflammatory properties. Oranges and other antioxidant-rich foods are even more powerful than medication in fighting long-term inflammation. That's a condition with links to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer's.
Bananas get all the love for being high in potassium, but oranges aren't far behind. One orange has 240 milligrams of this mineral that fuels your nerves and muscles and keeps your heartbeat steady. After a workout, reach for an orange to ward off cramps and put back your electrolytes.
Your body needs the B vitamin folate to make DNA and other genetic material and to help your cells divide. It's especially important for pregnant women: Folate prevents birth defects in fetal brains and spines.
Beta carotene is the pigment that makes oranges orange. It's also a powerful antioxidant that promotes cell health and lessens the damage free radicals do to your body. Those are the molecules your body makes when your body breaks down food or processes extra oxygen during a workout. It also makes them when you're exposed to things like chemicals, tobacco smoke, or radiation from the sun or other sources.
Also called B1, thiamin is a vitamin that helps your body process other nutrients and turn food into energy. It's a necessary part of each cell in your body. You'll often find it in enriched bread, pasta, rice, and cereal, but oranges are a good source of it, too.
Though both are good for you, choose whole fruit over orange juice when you can. Orange juice with pulp has some fiber, but not enough to meet your daily needs. Juice without pulp doesn't have any. But whole oranges have 3 grams of the 25-30 grams you need every day.
Orange zest doesn't just add brightness to dishes. It also adds a hefty dose of antioxidants, plus some calcium and potassium, which are stored in the peel. Wash your orange first, then zest it into cakes, cookies, and even on top of pasta, roasted meats, and vegetables.
Most people avoid the pith -- the stringy, spongy white part between the peel and the fruit -- because it tastes bitter. But the pith is full of calcium, fiber, vitamin C, and immune-boosting flavonoids. Throw the pith in a smoothie to hide the flavor but get all the benefits.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- Danielle Feinberg, MS, RD, registered dietician nutritionist, New York.
- Mayo Clinic: "Vitamin C," "Chart of High-Fiber Foods," "Antioxidants."
- Produce for Better Health Foundation: "Is Orange Juice the New Superfood?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Foods That Fight Inflammation."
- Mercy: "More Potassium? Orange or Banana?"
- University of Michigan Health System: "Potassium Content of Foods," "High-Potassium Foods."
- National Institutes of Health: "Folate Fact Sheet for Consumers," "Thiamin Fact Sheet for Consumers," "Folate."
- Cleveland Clinic: "Can Eating Too Many Carrots Turn Your Skin Orange?"
- Winchester Hospital: "Thiamine (B1)."