Citrus: Great fruits for heart health

16 Feb 2024

Nothing beats biting into a juicy orange amidst the winter chill! Citrus fruits offer a burst of sweetness and a wealth of heart-healthy compounds, such as fibre and flavonoids. That’s a good reason to enjoy oranges, tangerines or grapefruits as a go-to snack!

In a Nutshell

Health Benefits

Citrus are pulpy fruits covered with fairly thick skins that grow on trees, bushes or shrubs. They encompass many widely grown fruits, like lemon, lime, sweet orange, sour orange, tangerine, grapefruit, and pummelo. ​​​​​

Key nutrients: They are rich sources of nutrients and beneficial plant compounds, particularly:

  • Flavonoids, such as hesperidin and naringin
  • Carotenoids
  • Dietary fibres, such as pectin
  • Potassium and vitamin C

In human studies, eating citrus fruits regularly was linked to beneficial health outcomes.

🫀 Heart health: Regular intake of citrus fruit was associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. It also showed beneficial effects on the lipid profile by reducing the total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Plus, grapefruit consumption reduced systolic blood pressure.

🔃 Metabolic health: Citrus fruit intake reduced  the incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus. In intervention studies, it also had beneficial effects on body weight control.

📉 Cancer prevention: The risk of gastric cancer decreased by 40% ​​​​​​ for each 100g per day increase in citrus fruit intake.

How does it work? Several compounds in citrus fruits could provide beneficial effects. For example, the flavonoid ‘hesperidin’ could regulate signalling pathways involved in cancer cell death and inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells. Lab studies also show antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective properties, which suggests a wide range of health benefits for chronic diseases.

How much? Studies found benefits ranging from 4 times per week to 100g per day. One portion (80g) is 1 medium orange, 1 medium mandarin orange or half a grapefruit.

If you’re on medication, note that grapefruit juice can interact with certain medicines used as part of the treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. It’s best to seek advice from your pharmacist or doctor if you’re taking any of the medicines listed here.

Plant Tales

Ever heard of Yuzu? It’s the hardiest citrus around, thriving in chilly climates at high altitudes where temperatures hover just above freezing. It finds many uses in Japanese cuisine.

 Ancient roots in Asia: Citrus fruits are believed to have originated in Southeast Asia. Plant fossils found in southern China revealed a common Citrus ancestor within the Yunnan province about 8 million years ago. But the plot thickens: researchers think that early Citrus species emerged more than 25 million years ago on the Indian subcontinent when it collided with the Asian plate, creating the Himalayas. Read more.

 Traditional medicine: Citrus fruits have a long history as traditional remedies ​​​​​ with their peels or whole fruits used to treat various ailments like indigestion, cough, skin inflammation, muscle pain, ringworm infections and to lower blood pressure. The Chinese Pharmacopoeia documents nine medicinal uses for citrus from six Citrus species.

How to Enjoy

Buying: While citrus fruits are available year-round, they have peak seasons during the winter months in temperate climates. In the UK, sun-ripened citrus fruits are sourced from growers in southern Europe, like Spain and Italy.

Around the world

At the Doctor’s Kitchen, we love the uplifting touch citrus fruits bring to recipes. Their vibrant colours, brightness, and acidity enhance a variety of dishes, both savoury and sweet. Here are some of our favourite ways to enjoy them:

  1. To infuse fish with a zesty citrus marinade with spices, honey, and olive oil.
  2. As a topping for yoghurt bowls and porridge with nuts, seeds and mixed berries
  3. In salads: Toss pieces of orange or grapefruit with mixed greens, chicory, chopped nuts and your favourite dressing.

3 recipes


Health: Cheng et al. Journal of Nutritional Oncology. 2023

History:  ​​​​Wu et al. Nature. 2018 | Scientific American



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