orange on tree

How can you understand which is better for you – oranges or orange juice. And, if you want to consume oranges as orange juice, how can you determine which product(s) are healthiest. Let’s explore some facts about oranges and orange juice.

First of all, most of the oranges we consume in this country are consumed as orange juice. And most of the orange juice we drink is prepared (not fresh) orange juice. Some of the orange juice is orange drink, not real orange juice. A lot of us eat oranges in one form or another because we have been taught that it is naturally a good source of vitamin C, and, while that is true, some of the OJ preparations we consume actually have vitamin C added.

 

Oranges are a low cal way to get your vitamin C

There are many different types of oranges including Valencia (good for juice), navel (good for eating fresh), blood oranges (beautiful red color), clementine and tangerine (both with distinctive textures and flavors). If we focus just on the nutritional value of navel oranges, the orange of choice for many people, we find that one medium-sized navel orange (about 3″ in diameter) has about 69 calories. Most of the calories come from carbohydrates and most of the carbohydrate content is from sugar (primarily glucose and fructose). Oranges are also a source of fiber providing 3 grams or about 12% of the recommended daily value (%DV). Oranges are probably best known for being a good source of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and, indeed, one navel orange contains 83 mg of the vitamin or 138% of the DV. [According to the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the recommended amount of vitamin C needed daily is 90 milligrams for men over 18, 75 mg for women more than 18 years old unless they are pregnant (85 mg) or breastfeeding (120 mg).] Oranges also provide 7% of the DV for magnesium and 6% for calcium. So, in short, whole

What about orange juice?

In order to understand the health benefits of orange juice, you first need to understand

That being the case, let’s see how the different forms of orange consumption stack up.

A good old fashioned Florida orange contains 68 mg of vitamin C. It also has 65 mg of calcium (less than 1% of recommended daily intake) and 4 g of fiber (about 10 to 15 % of daily intake). There are 17 g of carbs, but no added sugar (the juice versions almost all have added sugar). It is only 69 calories.

An 8 ounce glass of Odwalla Organic orange juice has 144 mg of vitamin C, 20 mg of calcium and negligible fiber. It has 110 calories.

Tropicana Home Style orange juice (8 ounces) has 74 mg of vitamin C, 20 mg of calcium, and negligible fiber in its 110 calories. You can buy a version called Double Vitamin C and get 144 mg of vitamin C.

Tang orange drink has 90 calories in an 8 ounce serving with 60 mg of Vitamin C, 80 mg of calcium and no fiber.

So how do you make up your mind about how you should consume orange-based foods? From the point of view of a “whole” or “real” food, eating the orange can’t be beat. It is relatively low cal (although the mg of vitamin C per calorie are more or less comparable to orange juice). It also has fiber, so it is more filling, and it has no added sugar.

But sometimes you just can’t beat a healthy (get it??) swig of orange juice to wash down your breakfast. I particularly love it when there is so much pulp in the juice that the glass is coated once I finish. I also love orange juice that is naturally sweet, like the kind made from freshly squeezed Valencia oranges. Yum.

 

The bottom line

As with all foods, it is best to make an informed choice. If you really have an OJ craving and nothing else will do, find some fresh squeezed and savor it. When you want a high quality, portable snack, choose the orange. Take your time peeling it. Enjoy the tang you experience when some of the juice squirts you in the face. If all you want is vitamin C, take a multivitamin, if you prefer, but stick to the recommended daily intakes.

Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.

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