Botanical name – Citrus sinensis and not to be confused with Citrus aurantium, the bitter orange. Common name – sweet orange or just orange.
This brightly coloured citrus fruit graces fruit bowls and fruit salads around the globe; it is after all the world’s best-loved fruit. There’s even a bowl of them on the table in modern paintings of the last supper, which was actually unlikely considering they were not grown in the Middle East until many centuries after that famous meal was purported to have taken place. Genetically, 25% of the orange’s genes come from the pummelo / pomelo and 75% from the mandarin, indicating that it is a hybrid of these two fruits. And speaking of colour – the colour gets its name from the fruit, not the other way around!
Turkey is one of the world’s top orange, and citrus fruit generally, producers. Oranges make up nearly half the country’s citrus production*. Around 1,850,000 tonnes of oranges are produced here annually, followed by mandarins (1,337,037 tonnes), lemons (850,600 tonnes), grapefruit (253,120 tonnes) and others (2,250 tonnes).
Oranges are also a real powerhouse when it comes to nutritional content. They’re full of essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, making them an important component in a well-balanced, healthy diet. Here are a few facts about oranges.
Oranges And Vitamin C
Most people associate oranges with vitamin C, a very valuable antioxidant. It binds with harmful free radicals produced by the various oxidative processes that go on in the body and ‘defuses’ them. Vitamin C is also needed for collagen production, the fibres that keep our skin supple. And our immune system benefits from vitamin C because it helps us develop resistance to some types of infections. One medium orange provides us with 100% of our daily vitamin C requirements.
Oranges And Other Vitamins And Minerals
Oranges though also contain other vitamins and minerals. They have vitamin A, which helps maintain sight and eye health, mucous membranes, and skin. They also have thiamine (B1), pyridoxine (B6) and folic acid (B9). B group vitamins come under the category of essential nutrients, meaning we can’t manufacture them ourselves so must obtain them from our diet.
Oranges Help With Iron Absorption
Many vitamins and minerals go hand in glove when it comes to metabolism. Vitamin C and iron are one such instance. Our dietary iron comes from 2 sources – animal-based or heme iron, which the body prefers, and non-heme or plant-based iron, which we can’t utilise quite so readily. Oranges do not themselves contain any significant amount of iron but the vitamin C and citric acid in them help improve the metabolism of non-heme iron, an important consideration for vegans and vegetarians. Conversely, calcium inhibits the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron so it’s best to have your iron and vitamin C together and leave calcium rich foods for another meal. Preferably one at least 4 hours away.
Oranges Are Good For Heart Health
Speaking of calcium, oranges do have both calcium and potassium. Potassium is one of the electrolytes and we need it to facilitate the flow of electricity (energy) through our body. It’s this energy that keeps our heartbeat and blood pressure healthy. Arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, is associated with potassium deficiency.
If you’re a big meat eater you could have a fair amount of an amino acid called homocysteine floating around in your blood. We produce this as a by-product of eating meat. Normally we convert it into other amino acids but sometimes it accumulates in our blood instead. When this happens it’s an acknowledged marker for heart disease. In which case you’ll be pleased to know that oranges also have folate, which is proven to help reduce blood levels of homocysteine.
Oranges Can Also Help With Kidney Stones
The citric acid in oranges is chemically similar to citrate, a compound used in potassium citrate and sodium citrate to dissolve kidney stones made of uric acid. A small 2006 study found that drinking orange juice could effectively mimic the effects of potassium citrate in managing these types of kidney stones.
Choline Is Not Just Found In Eggs
When we think of good sources of choline we normally think of foods like eggs, liver, salmon, chickpeas, split peas and navy beans. However oranges also make the list of top 50 fruit sources of this macronutrient. Choline is used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine as well as maintain nerve, muscle and liver function. It also helps with energy and metabolism, and with brain development.
Oranges And Anti-Oxidants
Oranges contain a lot of carotenoids and phenolics. Carotenoids are yellow / orange / red pigments and like many of the pigments that give plants their colours, are antioxidants. Carotenoids are found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, mangos, melons and of course oranges. More specifically, oranges are rich in provitamin A carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin). Provitamin A carotenoids are compounds that can be readily converted to vitamin A by the body. Oranges are particularly rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, which has shown promise as a preventative for lung cancer as well as for reducing inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Along with provitamin A compounds oranges, especially the pink fleshed varieties, also contain the non-provitamin A compounds lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. Lutein is good for helping prevent the build up of arterial cholesterol. Zeaxanthin and lutein are both believed to help with macular degeneration. Lycopene is a very potent anti-oxidant; high levels of lycopene have been associated with reduced occurrences of prostate cancer.
Oranges May Be High In Carbohydrates And Water But They’re Low GI
It won’t come as any surprise to learn that oranges have a lot of water. Clearly that’s why they’re so juicy, and invariably messy to eat. They’re also high in carbohydrates, notably fructose, glucose and sucrose. This makes them an ideal energy snack in place of sweets or cakes. Although with that amount of sugar in them you’d be forgiven for thinking oranges are high on the glycemic index (a measure of how quickly sugar is absorbed by the blood). But it’s actually the reverse. They’re very low GI because their high fibre content, along with their polyphenols, controls the release of sugar thus avoiding the blood glucose spikes that come from eating processed sugary foods. For this reason the American Diabetes Association has approved them for consumption by both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes sufferers. Additionally, their fibre and polyphenols also help control blood sugar levels generally.
Oranges And Fibre
Their high fibre content also makes oranges valuable in more ways than just the obvious one. Oranges contain pectin, cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose. Pectin is a bulk fibre known for its value as a laxative. As such it pushes toxic wastes through the colon faster. This reduces exposure of the colon’s mucous membrane lining to these toxins. Pectin can also bind to cancer causing chemicals in the colon and facilitate their removal. It also binds to bile acids, which reduces the reabsorption of cholesterol by the blood.
Orange Peel – Rubbish Or Not?
For many of us one of the most off putting things about eating an orange is the business of peeling it! But quite apart from this, have you stopped to consider what you’re throwing in the bin? Studies have shown that many nutrients are higher in the peel than in the fruit itself. For example, the peel has higher levels of some flavonoids, phenolic acids and phytochemicals. Some of the therapeutical benefits of these compounds include:
- Anti-inflammatory effects,
- Lower cholesterol – studies show that some of the polymethoxylated flavones in orange peel and other citrus fruit are as effective, or more so, than many prescription drugs,
- Lower high blood pressure,
Orange peel also contains vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6, calcium, copper, folate and magnesium. Some are found in higher quantities here than in the flesh.
The white part in between the peel and the flesh is high in fibre.
There’s good reason for the high levels of these compounds in peel. This is the fruit’s first line of defence against attack and injury and these compounds are essentially designed to defend and heal the skin, protecting the valuable inner seed bearing flesh. It’s the same with many other fruits and vegetables.
Peel can be soaked in hot water to make a refreshing tea, blended into smoothies, dried and used in cooking and baking or it’s most common use – added as a flavoursome zest to other dishes.
So, whilst an apple a day may keep the doctor away, there are also plenty of excellent reasons to make an orange a regular part of your day too.