Should You Eat Orange Peel!? Here’s the Real “Peel”…
July 10, 2019
What’s the Point?
Starting off, why should you eat orange peel? Isn’t it only good for unhealthy foods like marmalade?
- “Can I eat an orange peel?”,
- “Should I eat orange peel?”,
- “Why on Earth would I eat orange peel!?” And even,
- “How to eat orange peel?”
These are all questions that many of us – surprisingly or not – may have wondered at some point or another!
It’s funny to think about, but there are some great insights to learn from these questions.
First of all, yes, some people do eat the peel! And no, it’s not as bad as it seems.
Beyond baked Christmas recipes and cocktails, there’s a whole plethora of uses for the stuff…
But the question really comes down to why you would even want to! Well, today we will explore the question and find out what this whole shenanigan is about.
Time to zest things up a bit!
Well… You may know that eating too many oranges and other sweet fruit isn’t advised due to the high sugar content. Enjoying a few servings per day may be fine as long as you’re also eating plenty of fresh vegetables and low-sugar fruits such as tomatoes and olives, etc. in the context of a whole-food, nutrient-dense, and calorie-controlled diet. However, high amounts of sugar (of any kind) have health risks, especially in the context of a sedentary lifestyle containing processed foods.
Notably, fruits do contain a considerable amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, too. So, having a little sweet fruit each week or once in a while is fair game for most of us, especially considering dietary adaptations our ancestors would have made in different seasons and foreign lands on occassion.
Oranges, in particular, are a good source of vitamin C, soluble fibre, potassium, beta-carotene, and other phytonutrients.
This is anti-ageing and benefits our immune system, collagen and elastin (connective tissues), skin health, digestive health, and heart health. (The key is moderation, still)
The peel can provide many additional benefits, though. In fact, pound for pound, the zest of an orange may contain more vitamin C than the fruit itself! Add to that a much higher fibre content, and other types of anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidative compounds, and you’ve got quite a healthy zest with many applications! And one of the best parts is the very low sugar content! To get 10g of sugar, you’d need to eat about 66 tablespoons of the stuff!
Imagine that you used to throw out all that nutrition! We’ll talk about the delicious ways to use it in a bit…
What Are the Benefits?
The sum up some of the best health benefits of orange peel and zest, here is a handy list. This is why the peel is worth it:
Fights off Infection
Orange peels contain a high amount of vitamin C, vitamin A carotenoids, (D-)Limonene, and antioxidants. These help to strengthen the immune system, kill harmful microbes, and prevent damage to healthy cells and tissues. It may even help to relieve bronchitis. Limonene – a highly non-toxic terpene – has been linked in studies to many benefits, which we will discuss now.
Could Help to Prevent cancer
Not only can antioxidants such as flavonoids in orange zest combat free radicals, but the chemical D-Limonene (Limonene’s main form) has been demonstrated to fight numerous types of cancer.
This terpene has multiple chemoprotective properties (^). Studies conclude that it has cytotoxic effects against types of gastric(^), colorectal, and breast (^), prostate (^), and liver cancers (^)*! Orange oil also helped to encourage the growth of healthy cells in one study on its effect on liver cancer*. In the study on gastric cancer, D-Limonene actually induced apoptosis (death) of cancerous cells.
Importantly, however, these are animal studies. Human trials need to further explore d-limonene’s chemoprotective potential.
This is supported by a Nov. 2021 systematic review published in the Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems of 8 different rodent studies, which also noted the lack of human-oriented research (^).
On the other hand, an in vitro study subjected colon epithelial cancer cell types to direct irradiation (to kill the cells). Feeding these cells neither curcumin, andrographolide, nor d-limonene lead to improved efficacy. However, feeding d-limonene to these cells after treatment did appear to have a potential effect of making them more sensitive to irradiation (^). This was in the context that cancer cells which were irradiated and which had also received d-limonene were more sensitive to further radiation treatment.
As a side note, an interesting in vitro experiment was performed on two colon cancer cell lines which were treated with combined d-limonene and hispolon (an extract from certain fungi). The combined treatment significantly inhibited cell migration and colony formation after 48 hours (^). This supports the researchers’ hypothesis that, with further research, this combined treatment may be a useful anti-cancer agent for patients to combat cancer growth and spreading.
In addition, it appears that d-limonene administration in cancer patients on radiation therapy could inhibit the therapy’s toxic effects on salivary glands (^)(^). This can thereby reduce dry mouth as a symptom.
More study is needed to fully confirm the anti-cancer properties of this terpene. Nonetheless, there are interesting data on possible therapeutic effects (including in combination with hispolon – perhaps a future avenue of research) and its ability to reduce radiation side effects in specific cases.
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Stress is one of the most destructive forces on health that we know of. There is much that goes into reducing and preventing it, including proper nutrition, exercise, and avoiding its causes as much as possible. However, natural remedies and foods can also help to reduce stress, much like they can depression.
Traditional medicines such as Ayurveda use orange oil for this effect, and research has shown that it has measurable anti-stress actions (^). This is in part due to its therapeutic and anti-inflammatory effects on the nervous system.
Supports Gall Bladder Health and Reduces Heartburn & Gastroesophageal Reflux
Limonene has another surprising benefits here. It helps to dissolve gallstones, and at the same time has properties which help to cleanse the gall bladder of fat buildup.
It also helps to neutralise gastric acid and encourage normal digestive muscle activity. For this reason, it is often claimed to help with acid reflux and thus heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) (^), and there are many attestations to these benefits that can be found online.
May Improve Skin Health
Another traditional use of orange peel is to apply it to the skin or use it in soaps and other topical applications. The anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects help to prevent and even combat acne. At the same time, vitamins C and E, as well as antioxidants, could prove beneficial in preventing signs of ageing and wrinkles.
Supports Digestive Health
Some of the beneficial effects already covered such as reduced inflammation and a high amount of fibre help to explain this.
We find pectin (a soluble fibre) in many plants, fruits, and vegetables alike.
Due to orange peels containing a high amount of pectin, they could help to promote digestion and prevent constipation. In fact, citrus peels typically are comprised 30 to 35% of pectin!
At the same time, it encourages a healthy gut microbiome (or flora) by acting as a prebiotic to boost your probiotics! (^)
Additionally, orange peels contain insoluble fibre in considerable amounts. This can have multiple benefits, too. We’ll talk more about these and soluble fibre in relation to those with digestive issues later on.
Anti-Diabetic and Reduces Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Yes, the humble by-product of your lunchtime snack may just prevent chronic disease… Sound crazy?
Studies have demonstrated orange peels to inhibit the actions of enzymes related to hypertension and type-2 diabetes.
One of these is known as ACE (angiotensin-l-converting enzyme). This enzyme helps to regulate the amount of fluid in the body, and to control the constrictions of blood vessels. In this way, it may increase blood pressure indirectly.
An interesting meta-analysis shows that the essential oils from orange and lemon peels also inhibit alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase enzymes (^). These convert starches and carbohydrates into sugars during digestion.
Inhibit this conversion, and prevent elevated blood sugar levels – that is the theory.
Furthermore, a 2012 study conducted in India also found that D-Limonene actively reduced plasma glucose levels and the activity of glucose- and fructose-converting enzymes, and increased glucose metabolism via glucokinase activity (^). Their findings indicate hypoglycemic effects from D-Limonene.
If the above reasons are not good enough answers to: “Should You Eat Orange Peel?”, I don’t know what is!
Note on Cholesterol
Other sources claim that orange peel may reduce cholesterol levels due to certain medicinal properties and components. However, I have found little conclusive research on this other than a study claiming that these effects may not be so. Here is the article providing information on how orange peel might not lower cholesterol.
At the same time, some studies show pectin to reduce LDL cholesterol, whilst not affecting HDL. So, it could have a small positive effect.
For now, whilst the peel is certainly healthy, it shouldn’t be relied on for any cholesterol or triglyceride lowering effects.
Think before You Buy! The Best Choices…
For Peels, Always Go Organic
There are some very clear guidelines that we should stick to when using orange peels. First and foremost, do not use non-organic fruit!
Make sure that if you intend to use the peel in any way, it is certified organic and watch out for misleading words such as “grown organically” on packaging that doesn’t actually explicitly state it is organic.
Some companies may grow crops to organic standards and spray them with chemicals afterwards. So it has to say that the product is actually organic itself. If it just says “Organic”, then it’s likely all good!
What Makes Non-Organic Orange Peels So Bad?
Citrus peels can be quite waxy. Because of this, they have a very high “lipophicility”, which means that chemicals from pesticides, herbicides, and so on are very easily absorbed by the peel.
One publication from Independent in 2005 actually was on the pesticide limits of oranges. Government investigators deemed many fruits to contain excessive amounts of pesticides, a large number of which have harmful effects.
Even though that was over 15 years ago, and standards are slowly getting better, orange peels often still contain dangerous chemicals if not organic. In large amounts, these can damage internal organs and natural systems.
Organic oranges generally aren’t too expensive if you want to get some in your local supermarket. Wash the peels anyway to be on the safest side – using a little vinegar when doing so goes a long way too!
Fibre and Digestive Issues
Another precaution is for those with any digestive issues. Because it is very high in fibre, it could aggravate symptoms of people with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), or similar ailments.
However, bear in mind that citrus peels are generally considered low-FODMAP, meaning those with SIBO or FODMAP-sensitivity-inducing conditions may not have to worry about enjoying some orange peel or zest.
Many people fare better with more soluble than insoluble fibre in their diet if they have digestive issues such as these. In general, citrus peels contains slightly higher amounts of insoluble fibre than they do soluble.
Should you eat orange peel if you have any concerns? Well, if you are worried about this, you can try starting with only small amounts, grated or blended, and alongside other foods.
Additionally, you may want to seek the advice of a medical professional who knows about your condition. Otherwise, you can always still get many benefits from the peel by using it as a tea or infusion!
P.S. You can actually use other citrus fruits such as lemons, too, when it comes to the benefits of Limonene!
“Well… I’m Not Just Going To Eat It Plain…”
And you don’t have to! It doesn’t seem the most appetising thing to bite into, after all…
To obtain the therapeutic effects of limonene, you can make a strong infusion by boiling a lot of the peel in water, or using a supplement. Here is a D-Limonene Supplement with cold-pressed orange peel extract and natural tablet casings. I have never taken this supplement, and always appreciate the value of getting nutrients from natural and whole-food options where possible (see below).
Some other cool and easy uses include:
- Zesting into oatmeal, yoghurt, or on your roasted/slow-cooked meats!
- Slicing/dicing into salads.
- Adding to your blender to “zest up” smoothies or shakes!
- Drying (or keeping fresh) and infusing in herbal teas!
Just remember the above, and not to eat too much orange fruit because of the sugar content!
You can buy Organic Orange Peel Zest* online or in health food stores to use for your very own convenience when making tea or cooking!
*Climate Pledge Friendly; Amazon’s Choice; £8.97 per 100g.
In an Orange Peel (Not a Nutshell):
I hope you enjoyed this article as we tried to answer the question: “Should you eat orange peel?”.
I’m sure the answer and the benefits of orange peel are surprising for many people, especially since the peels on citrus fruits are mostly just thrown away, or used sometimes in cocktails or marmalades (which I think is a waste of their potential)!
If you learned anything new, please help me help others by sharing this article with your friends and family on social media (plus, you’ll look like the smart one with this interesting “sciencey” stuff)!
Feel free to also follow Healthy Ronin on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for updates, fun facts, and any news!
Until next time, stay healthy
Bonus: Get your hands on your own FREE recipe book:
"Oat-my-goodness! A Step-by-step Guide to Six Savoury and Sweet Oatmeal Recipe".