Is there anything more refreshing than biting into a big slice of ripe, juicy ruby red grapefruit? Not just a great accompaniment to breakfast, grapefruit are awesome additions to salads or just a fabulously hydrating snack. And the citrus fruit brings a bevy of health benefits, too.
Angela Goscilo, a registered dietitian with Pollock Communications in New York City, says “grapefruit is a healthy component of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.”
Specific health benefits of a medium-sized grapefruit (250 grams) include:
— Vitamin C (more than 76 milligrams).
— Vitamin A (180 micrograms).
— Potassium (over 300 milligrams).
— Fiber (4 grams).
— Low in calories (82).
— Lots of antioxidants and phytochemicals.
— Increased iron absorption.
Gabrielle Mancella, a registered dietitian and corporate wellness dietitian at Orlando Health in Florida, says grapefruit’s key health benefit is its very high concentration of vitamin C. “Vitamin C is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties to it,” she says. This supports your immune system and may even be able to lower your risk of cancer and other chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease that have been linked to long-term, systemic inflammation.
“One large grapefruit provides 190% of the daily value of vitamin C, which supports your immune system and wound healing,” Goscilo says. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that women aged 19 years and older should consume 75 milligrams and men aged 19 years and older consume 90 milligrams of vitamin C each day. Half a medium-sized grapefruit (about 125 grams) contains more than 38 milligrams of vitamin C.
“I recommend eating food rich in vitamin C like grapefruit over taking synthetic vitamin C pills, as fruit will have other nutrients to work synergistically with the vitamin C to make the effects more powerful,” says Kate Weiler, a sports nutritionist and co-founder of Drink Simple, a company that makes a line of plant-based beverages.
Grapefruit is also a good source of vitamin A. This fat-soluble vitamin is important for maintaining normal vision. It also supports the immune system and reproduction. The NIH reports that it also helps keep the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs working properly. Half of a medium-sized grapefruit contains 90 micrograms of vitamin A. People aged 14 years and older should consume between 700 and 900 micrograms of vitamin A daily.
[SEE: Plant-Based Diet Ideas.]
Your body needs potassium for just about everything it does. This electrolyte helps ensure proper kidney and heart function, muscle contraction and nerve transmission. Though we usually think about eating more bananas when trying to increase the level of potassium in our diet, many foods offer this vital nutrient. The USDA reports that a small grapefruit (about 200 grams) contains 278 milligrams of potassium. (A medium-sized banana has a little over 400 milligrams.) Men over the age of 19 are advised to consume 3,400 milligrams of potassium daily. Women over the age of 19 are advised to consume 2,600 milligrams of potassium.
In addition to being high in vitamins and minerals, grapefruit is also “high in fiber and low in calories,” Weiler says. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that half a medium grapefruit has just 41 calories.
Most Americans eat less fiber than they should. The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume 25 grams of fiber per day. Half a medium-sized grapefruit contains 2 grams of dietary fiber.
Antioxidants and Phytochemicals
Antioxidants are compounds found in plants that have been found to inhibit oxidation, which means they can reduce inflammation in the body. Phytochemicals and polyphenols are natural compounds that can also offer health benefits, such as improving blood pressure and lowering inflammation. All this could add up to big health benefits over the long term.
“Grapefruit ranks very high in antioxidant compounds and has a wide range of polyphenols,” Weiler says. “Because of these compounds, there have been several studies that suggest that adding grapefruit to a healthful diet may lower your risk of cancer.” The American Institute for Cancer Research lists a variety of studies related to grapefruit and grapefruit components and their potential ability to fight cancer. Another small study published in August 2019 suggested that adding grapefruit juice could help boost the effectiveness of certain medications used to manage certain types of incurable cancer.
Weiler adds that grapefruit also boosts your body’s ability to use the iron found in foods you eat. “Grapefruit can help boost iron absorption, so if you’re low in iron, it’s great to eat grapefruit with iron-rich foods to improve absorption.”
How Often Should I Eat Grapefruit?
“There isn’t an exact number of times per week I would recommend people to consume citrus,” Weiler says, “but it is a delicious and healthful fruit to incorporate as part of your diet. In the wintertime, I recommend people eat more citrus as it is in season, and it is the time of year when our immune system could especially use that extra boost.”
Many people like to start the day with a sweet-tart grapefruit. Goscilo recommends consuming citrus fruits regularly. “They are versatile, from juice to whole fruit, and can fit into a wide variety of dishes and beverages.”
Watch the Sugar
Grapefruit is a fruit, and as such contains natural sugars. Some people are concerned about this sugar content, but Mancella says it’s still a food that can have a place in a healthy diet. “I know a lot of people do get concerned over the sugar content, but we want to make sure we’re not overlooking the benefits. If you can use it appropriately and balance it into the diet,” it can be a great inclusion.
Half of a medium-sized grapefruit contains 8 grams of sugar. The AHA recommends limiting added sugar to 38 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women.
One way to temper sugar intake is to choose whole grapefruit over juice. While grapefruit juice can offer you a deliciously tart start to the day, it does not retain the healthy fiber of the membrane that can slow the absorption of sugar and make you feel fuller longer.
If you’re diabetic or watching your sugar intake, you can still include grapefruit, just be mindful about how you do it, Mancella says. “Just make sure you’re eating it in proportion. Have a protein and a fat,” along with the grapefruit to get the maximum benefit of the fruit in your diet with less chances of an insulin spike.
And if you’re drinking commercially pressed grapefruit juice, Mancella also urges you to look closely at the label. “I see a lot of people coming in saying they’re drinking grapefruit juice. If it’s from concentrate or not 100% juice — if it’s one of those juice cocktails,” it likely has added sugar, making it a less healthy option than eating a whole grapefruit or drinking pure juice that has nothing added to it. “Stay away from artificial versions that have been processed,” she says.
Despite the sugar content, Weiler notes that “there have been studies that have shown that grapefruit can improve insulin resistance and may help prevent weight gain.”
A Word of Caution
Although grapefruit is considered a very healthy fruit, particularly when consumed whole rather than juiced, some people may want to avoid this citrus fruit altogether. “Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interact with several medications, including those that treat conditions like high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” Goscilo says.
If you’re taking statins and benzodiazepines, you may need to skip the grapefruit. “Before you start a new medication, consult a registered dietitian or physician about the risk for food interactions,” she adds.
Weiler agrees. “Check with your doctor if you’re on prescription medications because over the past few years, the number of medications that are associated with negative effects from grapefruit consumption has grown.”
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