Several studies have demonstrated the various health benefits associated with orange consumption, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. More recently, the link between oranges and improved cognitive function has also been investigated and holds great promise.
Cognitive function refers to the mental processes of learning, memory, thinking and problem-solving and is therefore integral to a happy, healthy lifestyle. Numerous dietary components have been linked to increased cognitive function, including oily fish, wholegrains, berries, and even chocolate!
More recently, attention has turned to oranges and their potential role in cognitive function. Frequent consumption of citrus fruits has been associated with several key health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and has recently been linked to improved cognition.5 Several studies have linked the consumption of orange juice and citrus fruits rich in flavonoids to delayed cognitive decline with age and reduced onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.2
As the ageing population continues to expand, preventative dietary measures such as the consumption of oranges to delay cognitive ageing could provide an invaluable tool.
Key nutrients in oranges
Oranges are rich in phenolic compounds, including flavonoids, which are responsible for giving oranges their high anti-oxidant properties. Other key nutrients found in oranges include:
- Fibre: One orange contains approximately 140g of fibre. Fibre is key to a healthy digestive system and supports beneficial gut bacteria
- Vitamin C: One orange contains 90% of your daily vitamin C needs, supporting immune function, collagen synthesis and iron absorption
- Folate: Folate is a B vitamin that works to support healthy metabolism as well as foetal and placental development
- Hesperidin: A key flavonoid linked to improved blood vessel function and enhanced antioxidant defences5
- Beta-cryptoxanthin: a key antioxidant that protects cells of the body from oxidative damage. Beta-cryptoxanthin can also be converted into an active form of vitamin A
- Lycopene: an antioxidant found in red-fleshed naval oranges that has been linked to a decreased incidence of heart disease4
Benefits of oranges for cognitive function
Whilst the role of oranges in cognitive function remains debatable, recent evidence suggests they could play an important role in reducing cognitive decline with age and have even been linked to a reduced onset of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.1
Flavonoids, the major phenolic compound found within oranges, may work to improve memory through the activation of signalling pathways in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that coordinates learning and memory.1
Mechanisms of action
Whilst the mechanisms by which oranges improve cognitive function are not yet fully understood, they are thought to involve an increase in cerebral blood flow (blood flowing to the brain) and in neural activity. Animal studies have proven supplementing the diet with citrus fruits improves learning and memory deficits, such as spatial and recognition memory, which is responsible for remembering where we have put things and name recall, respectively.3
Further studies on the mechanisms involved are needed to deepen our understanding of how orange consumption impacts cognitive function.
Tips for incorporating oranges into the diet
Oranges are readily available and widely accessible, making them the perfect healthy snack! Oranges can be incorporated into the diet in numerous ways, including:
- Eat fresh oranges as a healthy snack alternative: simply peel, cut into bite-sized slices and enjoy!
- Enjoy oranges as part of a fruit salad
- Use oranges to make freshly squeezed juices and smoothies
- Oranges can even be incorporated into savoury dishes, including chicken and fish dishes
- Use fresh orange juice to make a salad dressing vinaigrette
Oranges not only provide a delicious snack but can also prevent cognitive decline associated with ageing. Whilst studies are still in their infancy, promising results linking improved performance in memory and learning tasks have sparked interest in the role of oranges in cognitive function. Further studies that highlight the mechanisms involved could aid our understanding of preventative measures to delay cognitive decline.
- Lamport DJ, Saunders C, Butler LT, Spencer JP. Fruits, vegetables, 100% juices, and cognitive function. Nutrition Reviews. 2014 Nov 14;72(12):774–89.
- Alharbi MH, Lamport DJ, Dodd GF, Saunders C, Harkness L, Butler LT, et al. Flavonoid-rich orange juice is associated with acute improvements in cognitive function in healthy middle-aged males. European Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Aug 18;55(6):2021–9.
- Yang W, Cui K, Li X, Zhao J, Zeng Z, Song R, et al. Effect of Polyphenols on Cognitive Function: Evidence from Population-based Studies and Clinical Trials. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2021 Nov 4;25(10):1190–204.
- Fraga CG, Croft KD, Kennedy DO, Tomás-Barberán FA. The effects of polyphenols and other bioactives on human health. Food & Function [Internet]. 2019 Feb 20;10(2):514–28. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30746536/
- Pontifex MG, Malik MMAH, Connell E, Müller M, Vauzour D. Citrus Polyphenols in Brain Health and Disease: Current Perspectives. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2021 Feb 19;15(6).