Sweet, brightly colored citrus fruits bring a burst of sunshine
into winter days. But citrus fruits are not only flavorful and
pretty — they’re also good for you.
This class of fruits includes lemons, limes, oranges and
grapefruit, as well as many more hybrids and varieties.
They have a bunch of health benefits, from boosting immunity to
Read on to find out 7 reasons to eat citrus fruits.
What Are Citrus Fruits?
Citrus fruits grow on flowering trees and shrubs. They are
characterized by a leathery rind and white pith
that encases juicy segments.
They’re native to Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and
possibly Southeast Asia (1).
Nowadays, they are cultivated in tropical and subtropical
climates all over the world. Major production hubs include
Spain, Brazil, China, the US, Mexico and India (1).
Interestingly, nearly a third of all citrus fruits are used to
make juice (1).
You can find all kinds of citrus fruits year round. The peak
season for oranges and grapefruits in the Northern Hemisphere
is between mid-December and April.
Here are some popular varieties of citrus fruits:
Sweet oranges: Valencia, navel, blood
orange, cara cara
Mandarins: Satsuma, clementine, tangor,
- Limes: Persian, key lime, kaffir
- Grapefruit: White, ruby red, oroblanco
- Lemons: Eureka, Meyer
- Other kinds: Citron, sudachi, yuzu, pomelos
Read on for 7 reasons to add these fruits to your diet.
1. They’re Rich in Vitamins and Plant Compounds
In fact, just one medium orange has all the vitamin C you need
in a day (6).
Additionally, they are rich in plant compounds that have
various health benefits, including anti-inflammatory
and antioxidant effects.
Summary: Citrus fruits are very nutritious,
offering a host of vitamins, minerals and plant compounds
that help keep you healthy.
2. They’re a Good Source of Fiber
To put that in perspective, it’s recommended that you consume
14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat. It’s
estimated that only 4% of men and 13% of women in the US get
that amount (9).
Fiber has several health benefits, including improving
digestive health and aiding
Oranges are particularly high in soluble fiber, the kind of
fiber that helps lower cholesterol levels (10).
Compared to other fruits and vegetables, citrus fruits are
unique in that they have a higher ratio of soluble to insoluble
Summary: Citrus fruits are good sources of
soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and aids
3. Citrus Fruits Are Low in Calories
If you’re watching your calorie
intake, citrus fruits are a good choice.
They’re low in calories, yet their water and fiber contents
help fill you up.
- 1 small clementine: 35
- 1 medium orange: 62
- 1/2 pink grapefruit: 52
- 1/2 white grapefruit: 39
- Juice from 1 lemon: 12
What’s more, a 2015 study that looked at people’s eating habits
and weight over 24 years found that eating citrus fruits was
linked to weight loss (16).
Summary: Citrus fruits are low in calories,
making them a smart choice for people seeking to lose or
maintain their weight.
4. They May Reduce Your Risk of Kidney Stones
stones are painful mineral crystals.
They can form when your urine is very concentrated or when you
have higher-than-normal amounts of stone-forming minerals in
One type of kidney stone is caused by low levels of citrate in
Many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, can raise
the levels of citrate in your urine, lowering the risk of
kidney stones (17).
Drinking citrus juices and eating these fruits can offer a
natural alternative to potassium citrate supplements.
According to data on American eating habits over the last 40
years, kidney stones are more common in people who eat fewer
citrus fruits (18).
Summary: Eating citrus fruits may help lower
the risk of kidney stones in some people by raising citrate
levels in urine.
5. They May Help Fight or Protect Against Cancer
Many studies have linked citrus fruits to a reduced risk of
certain cancers (1).
In one study, people who ate one grapefruit or drank one
serving of grapefruit juice daily had a lower risk of lung
These fruits contain a host of plant compounds, including
flavonoids, that may help protect against cancer (8).
Citrus fruits may also help suppress cancer cells, blocking the
formation of new cancers and making carcinogens inactive
Summary: Citrus fruits have been widely
studied for their protective effects on a variety of cancer
6. They Contain Nutrients That Boost Heart Health
Eating citrus fruits could be good for your heart.
In fact, a Japanese study found that people who ate higher
amounts of these fruits had lower rates of heart disease and
Several compounds in citrus fruits can improve markers of heart
For example, their soluble fiber and flavonoids may improve
cholesterol levels by raising “good” HDL cholesterol and
lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (7).
Summary: Many compounds in citrus fruits can
benefit heart health by improving cholesterol levels and
lowering blood pressure.
7. They May Protect Your Brain
The flavonoids in citrus fruits may help ward off
neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and
Parkinson’s, which result from the breakdown of cells in the
In part, these diseases are caused by inflammation.
Summary: Citrus fruits and juices may help
boost brain function and protect the brain from
The Downside of Citrus Fruits
While the overall picture of citrus is pretty rosy, there are a
few potential downsides.
High Amounts Could Cause Cavities
This is a particular risk if you sip on lemon
water all day long, bathing your teeth in acid.
Interestingly, certain compounds in citrus peels may combat the
bacteria that cause dental cavities, although more research is
needed to see how that information could be used (34).
Fruit Juice Isn’t as Healthy as Whole Fruit
While orange and grapefruit juices contain lots of vitamin C
and other nutrients often found in whole citrus fruits, they’re
not quite as healthy.
There are a couple reasons why that’s a problem.
Second, when your body takes in large amounts of sugar, such as
fructose or sucrose, it is quickly absorbed into the
If your body gets more sugar than it needs, the extra calories
are stored as fat. Excessive, long-term intake of fructose is
especially concerning, as it may lead to fatty liver disease
Getting fructose from whole fruit is not a problem, given that
you’re getting a smaller amount at a time. Plus, the fiber
found in fruit buffers the fructose, causing it to be absorbed
more slowly into your bloodstream.
Grapefruit Can Interact With Certain Medications
Eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice can be a problem
if you take certain medications.
There’s an enzyme in your gut that reduces the absorption of
certain medications. Furanocoumarin, a chemical in grapefruit, binds to
this enzyme and keeps it from working properly.
As a result, your body absorbs more medication than it’s
supposed to (39).
Furanocoumarin is also found in tangelos and Seville oranges
(the kind used for marmalade).
There are several prescription and over-the-counter drugs that
are affected by grapefruit, including (40):
- Some statins, for high cholesterol, including Lipitor and
- Some calcium channel blockers, for high blood pressure,
including Plendil and Procardia
- Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant drug
- Some Benzodiazepines, including Valium, Halcion and Versed
- Other medications, including Allegra, Zoloft and Buspar
Summary: While citrus fruits are generally
healthy, they can have some drawbacks. Their acid can erode
tooth enamel and grapefruit can interact with some
The Bottom Line
There are many reasons to eat citrus fruits.
They’re nutritious and contain plant compounds that can protect
against a variety of diseases, including cancer, heart disease,
brain dysfunction and kidney stones.
But aim to consume whole fruits, rather than a lot of fruit
juice, as its high sugar content can lead to problems.
Overall, citrus fruits are healthy, low in calories and
convenient to eat. Most people could benefit from adding more
citrus to their diet.