Orange vs Grapefruit - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
Oranges and grapefruits are similar in many ways. Both belong to the Rutaceae family and Citrus genus. Here we will discuss how to make the informed choice between the two, based mainly on their differences in nutrition and health impact.
Both oranges and grapefruits are hybrids of other citrus fruits. Orange is a hybrid between pomelo and mandarin, whereas grapefruit is a hybrid between pomelo and sweet oranges. Naturally, oranges have been around for a much longer period of time, the first mention of them being in Chinese literature in 314 BC (1). Grapefruits, on the other hand, were first described in the year 1750 and were named the “forbidden fruit” of Barbados (2).
The name “grapefruit” allegedly comes from the fact that grapefruits grow in clusters on trees, like grapes. Another theory is that grapefruits have often been confused with pomelos and since pomelos are called Citrus maxima, that can be translated as “great fruit”, it has wrongly been worded as “grapefruit”.
Externally these fruits look quite alike. Grapefruits tend to be larger and weigh more than oranges. The pulp of the most common grapefruits, the ruby red grapefruits, is also usually a darker colour, more pink than orange.
These fruits have quite similar compositions of macronutrients, however oranges are slightly higher in protein, carbohydrates, both sugars and fiber, and calories, while grapefruits contain a little more fats. Both fruits naturally do not contain cholesterol.
Oranges, as well as grapefruits contain some amounts of all the essential amino acids.
One thing these fruits are different in is the glycemic index. Both oranges and grapefruits fall under the classification of low glycemic index foods, however, the glycemic index of oranges is double than that of grapefruits.
Based on Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) oranges are a little more alkaline.
Grapefruit is the right choice between these two fruits if you are on a low carb or a low calorie diet. But oranges win in a low fats diet.
Oranges overall contain more vitamins, being richer in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. However, grapefruits do contain a much higher level of vitamin A.
Both fruits contain a similar amount of vitamin B5 and completely lack vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin B12 and vitamin B9 (folic acid).
Oranges are higher in most minerals as well. They contain higher concentrations of iron, calcium and potassium. Grapefruits, on the other hand, are richer in phosphorus.
Oranges and grapefruits are approximately equal in the amounts of magnesium and zinc.
Both fruits do not contain sodium.
Several epidemiological studies demonstrate a relationship between the intake of flavonoid-rich foods and the reduction of cardiovascular risk factors and mortality. In particular, flavonoids present in citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit (95% from flavanones), stand out for their high nutraceutical values. Flavonoids can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as myocardial infarction, dyslipidemia and coronary artery pathology. The potential explanation may have to do with intracellular pathways involved in direct cardiovascular and cardiometabolic effects mediated by naringenin, hesperetin and eriodictyol or their glycosylated derivatives, though the mechanisms of action overall remain unclear (3).
However one study concluded that orange and grapefruit juice, though rich in polyphenols, do not demonstrate the ability to inhibit platelet aggregation, as opposed to the juice of another fruit rich in polyphenols; grape juice (4). Platelet aggregation plays a large role in atherosclerotic disease development, increasing the risk of cardiovascular related mortality and morbidity cases.
Another compound that both fruits are naturally rich in is vitamin C. A significant association has been found between high vitamin C intake and protection against cardiovascular mortality, as well as an inverse relationship with markers of inflammation (5).
Diet supplemented with fresh red grapefruit positively influences serum lipid levels of all fractions, especially triglycerides, along with supporting plasma antioxidant activity. The addition of fresh red grapefruit to generally accepted diets could be beneficial for hyperlipidemic, especially hypertriglyceridemic, patients suffering from coronary atherosclerosis. Additionally, fresh red grapefruit contains higher quantities of bioactive compounds and has significantly higher antioxidant potential than blond grapefruit (6).
Orange juice intake with a high fat, high carbohydrate meal prevented meal-induced oxidative and inflammatory stress, including the increase in endotoxin and toll-like receptor (TLR) expression. This may help explain the mechanisms underlying postprandial oxidative stress and inflammation, pathogenesis of insulin resistance, and atherosclerosis (7) and what role orange juice can play in it.
The consumption of citrus fruits may also protect against cerebrovascular diseases, such as ischemic stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage (8).
Oranges and grapefruits both classify as low glycemic index foods. Grapefruits particularly have a low glycemic index of 25. Including fruit, especially high in fiber and water, in diets can also play a significant role for people with metabolic syndrome, trying to manage weight gain.
One study demonstrated a significantly greater weight loss in the group consuming grapefruit, grapefruit capsule, and grapefruit juice compared with groups taking placebo. There was also a significant reduction in 2-hour post-glucose insulin level in the grapefruit group compared with placebo. Half of a fresh grapefruit eaten before meals was associated with significant weight loss. In metabolic syndrome patients the effect was also seen with grapefruit products. Insulin resistance was improved with fresh grapefruit. Although the mechanism of this weight loss is unknown it would appear reasonable to include grapefruit in a weight reduction diet (9).
One study suggests that grapefruit juice and orange juice play a good role in controlling the glucose levels of experimental animals and can be applied clinically on patients with diabetes and can lower cholesterol level. Diabetic animals treated with orange and grapefruit had a reduced blood glucose concentration when compared to the diabetic control animals. The main compound found in citrus fruits responsible for this effect is said to be naringenin, as well as vitamin C, that has been reported to produce hypoglycemic and hypocholesterolemic effects due to their strong antioxidant properties. All antioxidants may produce a synergistic effect which may provide strengthening to the B-cells of pancreas to release more insulin (10).
Both naringenin and vitamin C have been studied for their antidiabetic, antihyperglycemic and antioxidant effects in streptozotocin induced diabetes mellitus in rats (11). Naringin and naringenin supplementation has proven to be efficacious for the treatment of metabolic syndrome and obesity in animal models. In metabolic syndrome, obesity, and related cardiovascular complications, naringin influences AMP-activated protein kinase- (AMPK-), Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha- (PPARα-), and carnitine acyltransferase I- (CPT-1) mediated fat utilization and preserves mitochondrial function. Moreover, naringin also prevents the TNF-α–mediated inflammatory process and tissue damage in liver and vasculature (12).
There are many researches studying the associations between citrus consumption and cancer. Most studies conclude that consumption of citrus fruits provide protection against cancers of the digestive and upper respiratory tract, demonstrating a significant effect even with moderate citrus consumption. Compounds responsible for these effects are said to be vitamin C and flavonoids. Both, being strong antioxidants, protect against oxidative damage, inhibit the formation of carcinogens and protect DNA from damage. Additionally, flavonoids have antiproliferative and antiangiogenic qualities. The pectin protein found in citrus fruits also expresses anticancer qualities, due to its abilities to block the carbohydrate-binding of galectin-3, that is necessary for the growth and metastasis of tumor cells, as well as its immunomodulatory potential (13).
An Australian study found that overall, there were 48 studies showing a statistically significant protective effect against cancer of citrus foods with an additional 21 studies showing a non-significant trend to protection. Forty one studies showed absolutely no effect and 4 showed that consumption of citrus fruits significantly increased cancer risk, with another three showing a similar but non-significant trend. The greatest protection for increased citrus consumption appears to be for oesophageal, oro-phayngeal/laryngeal (mouth, larynx and pharynx) and stomach cancer. For these cancers, those studies showing a protective effect of citrus fruits showed risk reductions of 40-50% (14).
In most cases, if a person is allergic to one citrus fruit, they are advised to avoid all citrus fruits. The allergens found in citrus fruits are not specific to one fruit, but to all of them. These include lipid transfer proteins, profilin and pectin, as well as limonene, that causes contact dermatitis..
The symptoms of a citrus allergy manifest themselves as most food allergies do. This can range anywhere from nausea, stomach pains, diarrhea, oral allergy syndrome, that includes swelling, itching, burning or redness of the mouth area to, in rare cases, anaphylaxis. Citrus fruit can also cause contact dermatitis by touching it, in people who are allergic to the compound called limonene (15).
Citrus allergies also have cross reactivity with other common allergens, such as pollen, apples (16) or peaches (17).
Sensitivity to citric acid is not considered to be a part of citrus allergy, as the acid does not cause an immune reaction in the organism (18). However people with citric acid sensitivity can experience adverse effects after consuming citrus fruits.
Grapefruit Juice and Medication
As healthy as grapefruit juice is, it can become a health hazard when combined with certain medications. Grapefruit juice, and sometimes grapefruits, can negatively interact with medications used for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression, such as some calcium channel blockers, statins, immunosuppressants, benzodiazepines, beta blockers and other drugs.
It is said that a compound called furanocoumarin, that can also be found in Seville (sour) oranges, is responsible for these effects. In particular, the furanocoumarins bergapten and dihydroxybergamottin have been studied. The mechanism causing this effect is the grapefruit juice’s ability to inhibit cytochrome P-450 3A4 isoenzyme and P-glycoprotein transporters in the intestine and liver. Inhibiting the cytochrome P-450 3A4 results in slowing down the gut’s metabolism, consequently increasing the bioavailability of orally administered drugs, by a reduction in the first-pass effect. The P-glycoprotein inhibition also leads to increased levels of the drug in the serum, due to efflux action of P-glycoprotein (19). Therefore, grapefruit juice boosts the effects of certain medications by increasing bioavailability, which can pose a serious risk to patients taking the drugs. For these patients it is advised to switch from grapefruit juice to orange juice.
A commonly used drug that grapefruit juice has a boosting effect on is called Sildenafil, also known as Viagra. Men who take Viagra have to be cautious of their grapefruit juice consumption as it can lead to symptoms, such as headaches, flushing and low blood pressure (20).
To sum up, oranges are richer in calories, protein and carbohydrates, both fiber and sugar, whereas grapefruits contain more fats. Oranges win in the vitamin category, being also richer in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. Grapefruits, however, do contain a much higher concentration of vitamin A. When it comes to minerals, oranges contain more iron, calcium, potassium and copper, while grapefruits are higher in phosphorus.
Both oranges and grapefruits possess certain cardioprotective, antidiabetic and anticancer qualities and can be considered as functional foods. However, grapefruits and grapefruit juice have to be consumed with caution as it can interfere with certain medications.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Rich in minerals|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Sugars|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Lower in price|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Lower in Sodium||Equal|
Which food is preferable in case of diets?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values