You already know that citrus (like oranges, lemons, tangerines, limes and grapefruit) is an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamin C—which is why so many people reach for these fruits during cold and flu season. But citrus offers many other impressive health benefits as well. The juicy, colorful fruits are packed with good-for-you nutrients, not to mention flavor, making them a great addition to a healthy diet. Here, nine reasons why you should be adding more citrus to your plate.
They’re a good source of fiber
Women should aim to consume about 25 grams of fiber per day, and citrus can help you meet that goal. One orange serves up 2.3 grams of fiber, while a tangerine has 1.6 grams. What’s more, about two thirds of the fiber in citrus fruit is soluble fiber, which has been linked to lower cholesterol and helps regulate glucose levels, explains registered dietitian Wendy Bazilian.
The remaining fiber in citrus is insoluble, which adds bulk to our digestive system and helps keep us regular, Bazilian adds. Fiber-packed foods like citrus also keep us feeling full and satisfied longer than less-fibrous foods, making them a great snack for weight loss.
They’re good for your heart
Citrus contains flavonoids, plant compounds that may promote heart health, says registered dietitian Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet. In a study of patients who had undergone bypass surgery published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers found that antioxidant-rich red grapefruit helped lower “bad” LDL cholesterol as well as triglyceride levels. Vitamin C has also been linked to reduced risk of heart disease. However, if you’re taking cholesterol-lowering statins, you may want to skip grapefruit, which may interfere with these medications.
They have a low glycemic index
Citrus fruits have relatively low glycemic index scores on the 100-point scale, meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar as much as some other foods. An orange, for example, has a score of 45, and a grapefruit 25. (For comparison, raisins have a score of 64, a white bagel 72, and Gatorade 89.) This means the glucose in citrus fruit is released into your bloodstream slowly, offering you a steady feeling of energy—without a crash later on.
They may help shorten colds
It’s no secret that citrus delivers a healthy dose of vitamin C (51 mg in an orange, 38 mg in a grapefruit, and 30 mg in a lemon). And while vitamin C can’t prevent colds, research suggests it might reduce the duration and severity of them, explains registered dietitian Marisa Moore, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Studies show that the vitamin could help shorten the duration of your symptoms by about a day—which can make a big difference when you’re feeling unwell.
They’re packed with potassium
When you hear “potassium,” you probably think of bananas. But citrus is also a great source of this mineral, which is important for fluid regulation, mineral balance, and muscle contraction. Potassium also works to counter-regulate the amount of salt in your diet by helping your body flush out sodium. While this isn’t an excuse to douse your food in salt, it is another good reason to load up on citrus. By eating plenty of potassium-rich foods, you can help lower your risk of stroke by 21%, as well as reduce your risk of heart disease.
They may help you better absorb other nutrients
Adding citrus to your plate may help you get more out of other foods you consume, says Bazilian. “Vitamin C boosts the viability of the catechins, the healthy antioxidants in green tea,” she explains. Citrus can also help your body absorb iron, a mineral that’s important for the immune system and helps your body produce red blood cells. Bazilian recommends pairing citrus with iron-rich foods like leafy greens, fish, poultry, and meat to maximize their nutritional benefits.
Like cucumbers, watermelon, and tomatoes, citrus fruits have a high water content (oranges are 87% water and grapefruits are 88%). Eating plenty of water-rich foods such as citrus can help you stay hydrated, which is important for quenching your thirst as well as helping you consume enough fluids throughout the day to prevent dehydration and help the body’s systems function properly. Another benefit? Water-rich foods are filling, but low in calories. The Institute of Medicine recommends women aim for 91 ounces a day and men aim for 125 ounces a day.
They might keep skin looking young
Another reason to eat plenty of vitamin C? It may be beneficial for your skin, says Bazilian. Vitamin C plays a role in collagen production, which leads some experts to believe it can help keep skin looking supple and smooth. More research on the topic is needed, but a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who ate lots of vitamin C superfoods were less likely to have wrinkles and dry skin than those who did not..
They’re a weight loss staple
Citrus delivers tons of juicy flavor with little to no fat, sodium, or calories (an orange has just 45), making them extremely diet-friendly. What’s more, research has linked low vitamin C blood levels to higher BMIs, waist circumference, and body fat percentage.
To start incorporating more citrus into your diet, Moore recommends squeezing the juice or grating the zest on chicken, fish, or a salad to instantly boost the flavor. Or try turning the juice into the base for a dressing or sauce (it will brighten up any dish). If all else fails, you can always place a few lemon slices in your water to give it some subtle flavor.