You might never consider eating orange peels, but you do consume them as orange rinds in marmalade and as zest in baked goods. Orange peel is much bitterer than the flesh of the fruit, but it’s surprisingly high in some nutrients, especially citrus oils such as D-limonene. Eating lots of orange peel is likely to upset your stomach and lead to digestive problems, so moderation is the key.
Orange peel contains at least a little bit of all the major nutrients. For example, 100 grams of orange peel contain about 25 grams of carbohydrates, 11 grams of dietary fiber, 1.5 grams of protein and less than a gram of citrus oil. The same amount of orange peel also provides nearly 100 calories and is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, beta-carotene and many B-vitamins. Orange peel contains small amounts of several other minerals such as magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and selenium.
A significant proportion of the fiber content in orange peel is in the form of pectin, which is soluble fiber that helps clean out your intestines and control blood cholesterol levels. The insoluble portion helps prevent constipation by stimulating regular bowel movements. The relatively high vitamin C content is beneficial for stimulating the immune system and allowing connective tissue to be repaired. Additionally, the calcium in orange peel is needed for strong bones and normal muscle function.
The compound in orange peel that may have the greatest health benefit is D-limonene -- an essential oil that contributes greatly to the aroma of orange and lemon peels. It's a strong antioxidant and antimicrobial as well as a mild anti-inflammatory. D-limonene may prove useful for helping to deter cancer growth and prevent cardiovascular diseases, according to the "PDR for Herbal Medicines," although more research is needed before any scientific claims or recommendations can be made. D-limonene can irritate mucous membranes, such as those in the eyes, and can lead to stomach upset in large doses.
Before eating any amount of orange peel, thoroughly wash it because it’s likely to be coated with a variety of pesticides, herbicides and other potentially harmful chemicals. Buying certified organic oranges may be helpful, but a careful rinsing and drying is always recommended. Starting with some grated orange peel on desserts is probably a more pleasant experience than stuffing an entire peel into your mouth, but everyone has a different tolerance for bitterness. If the very outer portion of the peel has no appeal to you, eat just the inner white portion. This part is called the orange albedo, and it’s a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- Textbook of Nutritional Medicine; Melvyn Werbach and Jeffery Moss
- PDR for Herbal Medicines; PDR Medical Staff
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.