Lemon vs Orange - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
Oranges and lemons are often the fruits that come to mind when we try to think of good sources for vitamin C. They are both citrus fruits, belonging to the Rutaceae family and the Citrus genus and both hybrids. A genomic study has shown that oranges (Citrus × sinensis) are a hybrid between pomelo and mandarin (1), whereas lemons are said to be a hybrid between sour (Seville, bitter or Citrus × aurantium) orange and citron (2). In this article the word “orange” refers to the sweet orange or Citrus × sinensis, as it is the most commonly used species of oranges.
Oranges contain more calories and carbs, due to the sugar content, while lemons are higher in protein, fats and fiber. Both fruits naturally do not contain cholesterol.
When it comes to the glycemic index, both oranges and lemons, as most citrus fruits, fall under the classification of low glycemic index foods. However the glycemic index of lemons is much lower when compared to the glycemic index of oranges.
A serving size of an orange is equal to one fruit that weighs around 131g. Lemon’s serving size is much smaller, equalling 58 grams.
If you are on a low carb, low calorie or low glycemic index diet, lemons are the right choice for you out of these two fruits. Orange is the preferable choice for a low fats diet.
Lemons often taste more sour than oranges. This difference in taste is decided by the fruit’s acidity. The acidity of lemon varieties falls between 5 to 7%, mostly due to the citric acid content, as opposed to the 1% in oranges (3). The pH of oranges is calculated to be in the range of 3,69-4,34, whereas the pH of lemons is around 2-2,6 (4). The pH of lemon juice also ranges around the same numbers, as the pH of a lemon. Therefore, lemons are more acidic than oranges.
Once oranges and lemons are fully digested and metabolised, the citric acid becomes alkaline in the body. Based on the potential renal acid load (PRAL), oranges are more alkaline.
Oranges are overall richer in vitamins, being higher in vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B5. The only vitamin that lemons contain more of is vitamin B6.
Both oranges and lemons lack vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamins B12 and vitamin B9 (folic acid).
Vitamin C is one of the most important nutrients found in citrus fruits for which they are famous. Lemons and oranges have approximately the same amount of vitamin C, with orange’s vitamin C content being only slightly higher. Both oranges and lemons contain more vitamin C in their zests or peels.
However raw lemon juice is richer in vitamin C, compared to orange juice.
Oranges also win in the minerals category. They contain higher concentrations of calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper and zinc. Lemons, on the other hand, are much higher in iron and contain more phosphorus as well. Lemons also contain sodium, whereas oranges do not.
Oranges and lemons, as all citrus fruits, are rich in phytochemicals that provide many protective qualities. These phytochemicals include flavonoids (naringenin, hesperidin), carotenoids (beta-carotin, lutein), coumarins, phenolic acids and many others.
Reactive oxygen species are the chemicals often involved in many heart diseases. These are chemically reactive compounds that can be toxic to cells, damaging macromolecules, such as lipids, proteins and nucleic acids. Phenolic compounds found in citrus fruits have the ability to directly absorb and neutralize these chemicals, as well as inhibit enzymes that are associated with this pathogenesis. Polyphenols can also enhance the natural human antioxidants (5).
Many studies have shown foods high in flavonoids to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Lemons, in particular, have been shown to reduce low density lipoproteins, commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol” and increase high density lipoproteins, often called “good cholesterol” (6).
Flavonoids can also prevent hyperglycemia by increasing the formation of glycogen molecules from glucose and inhibiting the synthesis of glucose in the liver (5)․
Atherosclerosis is the main cause of heart disease and stroke. Naringenin and hesperetin are flavonoids that also possess antiatherogenic abilities, by promoting fatty acid breakdown. Oranges contain comparatively high levels of naringenin, whereas lemons are rich in hesperetin (7).
People with high blood pressure are advised to decrease their sodium intake. Luckily oranges do not contain sodium and lemons are low in this mineral.
A study has shown that consumption of high flavonoid juice can lead to a reduction in diastolic blood pressure, due to flavonoids such as naringin and narirutin (8).
Intake of lemon has also been proven to have an inverse association with systolic blood pressure (9).
One research has concluded that citrus consumption reduces the risk of cerebrovascular diseases, such as ischaemic stroke and intracerebral haemorrhage (10).
Glucose and Insulin Response
Studies in experimental diabetes models demonstrate the efficacy of citrus flavonoids to improve glucose tolerance, increase insulin secretion and sensitivity, decrease insulin resistance, reduce hepatic glucose production and intestinal glucose absorption, enhance peripheral glucose uptake, suppress inflammation, and modulate activity of enzymes and transporters involved in glucose and lipid metabolism (11). The flavonoids with strong antidiabetic activities are hesperidin, naringin and nobiletin (5)
Consuming lemon or lemon juice along with bread or other starchy foods has been proven to reduce the glycemic response impact through premature inhibition of α-amylase enzyme in the saliva that breaks down carbohydrates (12).
A study has also shown that 1000mg of vitamin C consumption a day leads to decreased levels of blood sugar, total cholesterol, triglycerides, low and high density lipoproteins, as well as serum insulin (13).
Citrus flavonoids modulate different signaling pathways involved in adiposity and fat cell differentiation and hence could be of significant value for the development of antiobesity agents (11).
Polyphenols found in citrus fruits can assist obesity management, since they cause a reduction in fat cell differentiation, lipid content in the cell and programmed death of fat cells. They can also potentially alleviate complications present in obesity by reducing cytokines, which are the responsible for inflammatory processes (14).
Diabetic nephropathy is a serious complication due to diabetes mellitus type 2, that leads to end-stage renal disease. A study has concluded that red orange and lemon extract has the ability to prevent this complication, owing to strong antioxidant qualities of anthocyanins (15).
The phytochemicals within citrus fruits have been associated with reduced risk of cancers, especially cancers of digestive and upper respiratory tract. This effect was significant even with moderate citrus fruit consumption (16).
The phytochemicals that have shown anticancer abilities include flavonoids, limonenes and coumarins. The effects have been studied against gastric cancer, breast cancer, formation of lung tumors, formation of tumors of the colon, hepatocarcinogenesis, and blood stem cell malignancies (5).
Lemons are particularly rich in limonenes, which have been studied to have antiproliferative effects on human breast cancer cells (17). This effect is stronger in estrogen-responsive breast cancers, due to limonene’s anti-aromatase quality, that inhibits androgens’ transformation into estrogens.
Not only fresh citrus fruits, bur also their juices and other derivatives can act as a potential resource against various cancers (18).
Essential oils of orange and lemon fruits have expressed bacteriostatic (stopping bacteria’s reproduction) and bactericidal (killing the bacteria) effects, mostly due to the limonene concentration (19).
Another phytochemical naringenin, a flavonoid that oranges are especially rich in, has been shown to repress the pathogenicity and cell motility of Salmonella bacterium (20). This flavonoid, along with some others, may also modulate intestinal microflora by serving as an antipathogenic agent against Escherichia Coli (21).
Citrus allergies are quite rare, but do occur. A person allergic to citrus fruits may have symptoms shortly after coming in contact with fruits, such as oranges and lemons. An allergy to the compound called limonene can cause contact dermatitis (22). However food allergies are more common, causing symptoms, such as oral allergy syndrome (itching, swelling, tingling or redness of the mouth area), nausea, diarrhea, and in rare cases even anaphylaxis.
The allergens identified in citrus fruits are lipid transfer proteins, profilin and pectin, as well as limonene. Some of these allergens may have cross reactions with other common allergens, such as pollen, apples (23) or peaches (24).
People can also be sensitive to citric acid, which is not considered to be an allergy, as citric acid does not cause an immune response in the organism (25).
For allergic people who are not sensitive to citrus fruits, these fruits may serve as natural medicine. Flavonoids naringenin and hesperidin, which oranges and lemons are rich in, have been studied to reduce the symptoms of allergy and suppress inflammatory compounds (26).
Oral administration of aqueous extracts of citrus fruit peels has also been studied to demonstrate antiallergic and antiinflammatory qualities (27).
In summary, oranges contain more calories and carbohydrates, due to sugars and lemons are richer in protein, fats and fiber. The two are similar in the amounts of vitamin C. Oranges overall are richer in both vitamins and minerals, containing more vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B5, as well as calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper and zinc. Lemons, on the other hand, contain higher concentrations of vitamin B6, iron and phosphorus.
Both possess cardioprotective, antidiabetic, anticancer and antimicrobial qualities.
At the end of the day, both oranges and lemons can be very beneficial if used right and the choice depends on the situation and personal preference.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Lower in price|
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Rich in minerals||Equal|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values