Although oranges are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the United States, they were once considered an expensive delicacy in most regions of the country. With the advent of commercially produced orange juice in the 1940s, oranges became one of the most important national fruit crops, according to the book “Wellness Foods A to Z.” While the majority of oranges are processed into various juice products, the fruit itself is an excellent source of vitamin C and antioxidant compounds, and a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and several B vitamins, including folate.
Arguably, oranges are most renowned for their high levels of vitamin C, a multifunctional nutrient essential to healthy eyes, skin, teeth and bones, as well as numerous processes in the body. Vitamin C boosts immunity by stimulating the production of antibodies and significantly enhances your body’s absorption of iron from foods of plant origin. In addition to its functions as a nutrient, vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant that helps prevent free-radical damage. Small-, medium- and large-sized oranges provide approximately 85 percent, 116 percent and 163 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, respectively, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Oranges are rich in several important phytonutrients, including flavonoids, carotenoids and other powerful antioxidant compounds. The primary flavonoid in oranges is hesperetin, a compound that significantly increases the antioxidant potential of vitamin C, according to “The Color Code,” a book about the health benefits of colorful foods. After vitamin C destroys a free radical, hesperetin acts to regenerate the vitamin back to its active antioxidant form. Flavonoid also helps slow the replication of certain viruses, including polio, influenza and herpes. Other research indicates that hesperetin helps diminish inflammation, reduce high blood pressure and promote healthy cholesterol levels.
Oranges generally qualify as good sources of fiber, meaning they supply between 2.5 and 4.9 grams of fiber per fruit. Small oranges fall just shy of this classification with about 2.3 grams of fiber per fruit. Medium- and large-sized oranges, however, supply more than 17 percent and 12 percent of the daily value for fiber, respectively, according to the USDA. Oranges are highest in soluble fiber, the type associated with regulating blood glucose levels and reducing high LDL and total cholesterol levels. The fruit’s fiber content gives it a nutritional advantage over its extracted juice. Although a serving of freshly squeezed orange juice is a more concentrated source of both nutrients and calories, it provides roughly 85 percent less fiber than the whole fruit.
Oranges are a significant source of potassium -- a large fruit supplies almost 10 percent of the nutrient’s daily value. The adequate intake of dietary potassium can help both prevent and treat hypertension. A large orange also provides nearly 14 percent of the daily value for folate, a B vitamin essential to cell production and maintenance. Because of its role in making red blood cells, getting enough folate can help prevent anemia. Oranges are a good source of vitamin A, a nutrient that promotes good vision and helps form and maintain healthy skin, bones and teeth. One large orange provides 8 percent of this vitamin’s daily value. Oranges are also a good source of vitamin B-6, thiamine, pantothenic acid, calcium and magnesium.
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