Eat Citrus Fruits for Heart Health, Cancer Protection, and More

Citrus fruits are best known for their high vitamin C content, which can help protect against heart disease, cancer, dementia, and more.

citrus fruits

Our author's favorite fruit, the satsuma orange, is among the many citrus fruits that provide all sorts of benefits, including heart health, cancer prevention, and skin health.

© Anthony Dodd |

I eagerly await the arrival of satsuma oranges to the grocery store each winter. They remind me of cold, rainy northwest days, visits to my grandma’s house, and Christmas morning with my family. While winter produce can be a bit drab at times, something you can always find this season are fresh, delicious citrus fruits. From oranges to grapefruits, these tasty wintertime treats also pack a healthy punch; they’re great for your heart, protect against cancer, and provide all kinds of other health benefits.

Vitamins, Minerals, and More

Citrus fruits are best known for their high vitamin C content. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant; by fighting oxidative damage, it can help protect against a variety of conditions including heart disease, cancer, and dementia.

And while vitamin C is certainly important in terms of the health benefits of citrus, these fruits also contain folate, vitamin B6, vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber, and flavonols, all of which are also very important for promoting good overall health.[1]

Citrus Fruits: A Heart-Healthy Food

Researchers analyzed data from over 30,000 women and found that women who had the highest intake of citrus fruits and citrus juice had half the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease compared to people who didn’t eat any citrus.[2] High citrus consumption was even more strongly associated with reduced risk for stroke.

An earlier study in both men and women found similar results, with citrus intake protecting against cardiovascular disease, and stroke in particular.[3] Several studies have found citrus fruits like grapefruit and orange to lower triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure, and more.[4-7]

These effects may be in large part due to the flavonol content and antioxidant activity of citrus fruits. One study found that people who supplemented with 270 mg citrus flavonoids and 30 mg tocotrienols (vitamin E) had 20 to 30 percent reductions in total cholesterol, 19 to 27 percent reductions in LDL cholesterol, and 24 to 34 percent reductions in triglyceride levels.[8]

Vitamin C is certainly important when it comes to heart health. A recent study found that people with higher levels of vitamin C in their blood had significantly lower risk of heart disease and mortality.[9] And eating more citrus fruits is definitely an effective way to boost your vitamin C intake for a healthy heart.

Citrus Fruits Fight Cancer, Too

Citrus fruits have been shown to protect against a variety cancer forms, including those of the digestive tract and larynx.[10,11]

Researchers suggest that along with the antioxidant properties of vitamin C (which fight oxidative damage, known to play a role in cancer development), citrus fruits contain other cancer-fighting tools, as well. Some of the other nutrients presumed to be involved in cancer prevention include folate, dietary fiber, carotenoids, limonoids, and flavonoids.[11]

Citrus fruits may also have benefits for diabetes, bone health, cognitive function, skin health, and metabolic syndrome.[12-16]

Incorporating Citrus Into Your Winter Diet

As winter settles in, don’t let your diet become bland and boring. Use citrus fruits to add tangy flavor and zesty aromas to your food.

Eating the whole fruit is a great way to get all the nutrients out of these fruits, preserving all the fiber content as well. Plus, throwing something like an orange into your lunch couldn’t be more convenient for a mid-day serving of fresh fruit. Find satsumas, clementines, or other easy-to-peel fruits for your kids’ lunches.

You can also add 100 percent juice to your cooking, along with zest of these flavorful fruits. Try our recipes for broiled grapefruit and citrus-glazed chicken to get started.

december 15 recipe 1

december 15 recipe 2

1. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015 Apr 1:0.
2. Eur J Epidemiol. 2015 Sep;30(9):1035-48.
3. J Epidemiol. 2011;21(3):169-75.
4. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Mar 8;54(5):1887-92.
5. Food Nutr Res. 2015 Oct 20;59:28147.
6. Food Nutr Res. 2014 May 8;58.
7. Metabolism. 2012 Jul;61(7):1026-35.
8. Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 Nov-Dec;13(6):44-8.
9. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jun;101(6):1135-43.
10. Br J Nutr. 2015 Apr;113 Suppl 2:S102-10.
11. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2002;11(1):79-84.
12. Curr Top Med Chem. 2015;15(2):187-95.
13. J Med Food. 2014 Oct;17(10):1142-50.
14. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Mar;101(3):506-14.
15. Food Chem. 2016 Mar 1;194:920-7.
16. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2015 Nov;66(7):830-6.

Originally published in 2015 and updated.

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Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC

Jami Cooley is a Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant as well as a Registered Nurse, but her interest in integrative medicine grew out of her experience in conventional medicine. Cooley … Read More

View all posts by Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC

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