Can Orange Juice Make Your Heart Healthier?

The health benefits derived from eating oranges are well documented. Rich in vitamin C, which offers antioxidant protection and helps boost the immune system, oranges are also a good source of fiber and other important nutrients like folate, thiamine, potassium, vitamin A and calcium, crucial for maintaining strong bones. And while oranges have also been found to be heart protective in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels, new research is showing that an antioxidant in orange juice called hesperidin—a plant-based compound called a flavonoid—helps blood vessel function, also referred to as "endothelial function," by improving the health of cells lining the blood vessels.

When the cells are damaged, it can lead to the development of clogged arteries, a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. In addition to oranges, flavonoids are also found in grapes, red wine, green and black teas and dark chocolate.

The study involved 24 healthy men at risk for cardiovascular disease. Each participant was instructed to drink 500 milliliters (or half a liter) of orange juice each day, a "dummy" drink that contained the same number of calories as the orange juice or a dummy drink fortified with 292 milligrams of hesperidin. (A 500-milliliter glass of orange juice contains 292 milligrams of hesperidin.) Each man drank every beverage for one month. At the end of the study, researchers found that when the volunteers drank either the daily glass of orange juice or the hesperidin-fortified drink, they had better endothelial function and lower diastolic blood pressure (the lower number on a blood pressure reading) than when they drank the non-hesperidin beverage. The full study results were released last summer at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Las Vegas.

Foods Rich in Flavonoids

Nutritional experts say to reap the full health benefits of flavonoids, stick to eating the whole food, in its raw form, rather than drinking fortified juices. For a diet rich in flavonoids, be sure to include some of the following foods in each meal:

  • Citrus fruits and juices, such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons; apples; pears; watermelon
  • Red, blue and purple berries; red and purple grapes; red wine
  • Green and black teas
  • Dark chocolate
  • Vegetables, especially dark, leafy ones like broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts; beets; tomatoes; carrots; squash; asparagus
  • Nuts, such as almonds
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Beans, especially kidney and lima
  • Herbs, including dill, basil (leaf), peppermint, anise seed