Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Secret Power of Citrus!

UPDATE: 8/28/13

I have a few updates that I need to make to this post. When I wrote the post I understated two important points.

Eating oranges really is better than drinking the juice. Regardless of how fresh the orange juice is, in a study preformed on 18 non-insulin-dependent diabetes patients there was no difference in the sugar spike in the blood between drinking a glass of fresh squeezed, unsweetened orange juice and decaffeinated coke. There was a significantly lower spike in blood sugar levels when an entire orange was consumed instead. While this does not necessarily mean orange juice shouldn't be consumed, as the study puts it, it suggests that unsweetened juices should not be part of regular meal planning. 

I also mentioned, that when juice is consumed, you should also go for the least processed juice that is available. In this case, it would always be fresh squeezed. Even 100% juice isn't good enough. As one of my label reading rules goes: NEVER TRUST A PACKAGE! The reason why is because non-fresh squeezed juice is stored for over 1 year in giant tanks. During this period, the oxygen is removed, to keep the juice from spoiling. This also strips the juice of it's natural flavor. So: 

"Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature."

As such, you should always choice 100% fresh squeezed juice. Who knows what is in anything else. 


A little over one year ago, I wrote a post I called Vegan Doping, to be more specific, the post was about how nitrates in beets, beet greens, and arugula can help improve athletic performance when taken before exercise. It has since become one of my more popular posts, and several people have commented to me that they now “nitrate-load” religiously before races! Now, thanks to science and tons of research, I have another little tip to offer athletes… and it should come at no surprise that it has to do with healthy, plant-based nutrition!

When we think about the nutrients in oranges, we almost exclusively think about Vitamin C, however, all whole citrus fruits also come loaded with thousands of phytonutrients. One of these flavonoids, known as hesperetin, and found primarily in citrus fruits, has been found to increase blood flow! Not only is this a reason why citrus is an excellent food to help reduce one’s risk of stroke, but it also can help keep extremities warm and more importantly for athletes, it can help reduce muscle soreness!

When we exercise our muscles expand energy to contract. This process creates a natural byproduct known as lactic acid. While our bodies can become pretty efficient at removing the lactic acid, and in fact, training can result in the reduction of lactate formation, during very strenuous or long forms of exercise, no matter how fit one is, lactic acid will begin to build up in the muscles and will ultimately cause a burning sensation so great that the body will simply not be able to continue working at it’s current rate. Most often, this means the athlete has to stop, or significantly slow down to give the body a chance to clear this lactate out of it’s system.

Citrus fruits seem to have a remarkable ability to help expand the bodies ability to process lactate. This is most-likely because of the increased blood flow as a result of ingesting hesperetin. A study took over-weight women and started them on an aerobic exercise regimen of walking and running. After a few months the women’s lactate threshold increased by nearly 17%. A second group followed the same program but drank two cups of orange juice each day. They increased their levels by 27%. While both groups made large improvements over the three-month study, the citrus group had a lower level of lactate build up, signifying a significant improvement in performance while experiencing far less muscle fatigue from the control group.

While the study was conducted using juice, the whole orange or other citrus fruits were found to be even better at helping the body cope with lactate without causing as large of a sugar spike in blood levels. That said, it is far easier to fill a water bottle up with orange juice than it is to carry a bunch of oranges! Doing so may allow an athlete to work harder for a longer period of time. For those participating in serious endurance events, not only will the juice provide natural electrolytes and calories but it also helps to hydrate at the same time.

Hespertin also has advantages for non-athletes. As mentioned above, it helps increase blood flow. Drinking citrus juice or eating citrus fruits has been shown to help keep limbs warm when subjected to cold water. So if you are one of those people who always has cold hands in the winter, increasing your citrus consumption, may help. And finally, who doesn’t want to decrease their risk of stroke? Overall, there are tons of great benefits to eating oranges and other citrus fruits, and unlike drugs, the only side effects are increased health and vitality!

So either peel a grapefruit or drink a fresh squeezed glass of OJ each morning... it will make you
Better, Faster, Stronger! 

Note: Thank you to Dr. Greger for bring light to this subject and for making the research so readily available.

Further reading:

C. Morand, C. Dubray, D. Milenkovic, D. Lioger, J. F. Martin, A. Scalbert, A. Mazur. “Hesperidin contributes to the vascular protective effects of orange juice: A randomized crossover study in healthy volunteers.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011 93(1):73 – 80.

A. Aguil√≥, P. Tauler, A. Sureda, N. Cases, J. Tur, A. Pons. “Antioxidant diet supplementation enhances aerobic performance in amateur sportsmen.” Journal of Sports Science. 2007 25(11):1203 – 1210. 

 N. P. Aptekmann, T. B. Cesar. “Orange juice improved lipid profile and blood lactate of overweight middle-aged women subjected to aerobic training.” Maturitas. 2010 67(4):343 – 347.


M. J. Sullivan, R. L. Scott. “Postprandial glycemic response to orange juice and nondiet cola: is there a difference?” Diabetes Educ. 1991 17(4) 274-278.

For more about the processing of OJ, see this Huffington Post article. 


  1. And for us regular, non-endurance folks...squeezing citrus into our considerable daily water intake is a help!

  2. Great article Ant! It's kind of funny because my soccer coach used to bring oranges to every game and we would eat them at halftime. I always thought it was stupid. Obviously I was wrong.

  3. "Can help keep extremities warm." Looks like citrus will be my new best friend haha. Great blog post!!

  4. Anthony, I'm impressed! The references are from reputable journals. I'm actually thinking of taking you up on some of this vegan stuff as I'm working towards a healthier diet. Would love to talk sometime. Hope all is well. Ken

    PS: I drank 3 glasses of lemonade. Was that citrus loading? Can't do the grapefruit because of my lipitor.

    1. Ken, I apply the same rigorous standards to my nutritional research that I applied to historical research. Always reliable ;)

      As far as the lemonade, it's hard to tell if the good out ways the bad. A suggested change could be to start having lemon water. Either buy not-from-concentrate lemon juice and add it to water (I do this every morning) or just cut up a lemon and toss it in.

  5. BYOL, I'm shocked. Why not fresh lemon juice for you? Even Abby Bean uses fresh lemons and she eats potatoes out of a can.

    1. Ha, Bean, it's literally just fresh squeezed lemon juice.

  6. This is awesome! Beet juice pre-training, citrus for post-training!

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