Many dieters and health-conscious individuals tend to limit their intake of orange juice due to its high sugar content. But surprising research shows that orange juice can actually play a beneficial role in heart health by reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
Vegetables and fruits, such as oranges, are rich in phytochemicals, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that prevent LDL oxidation, which can lead to atherosclerosis. The phytochemicals (specifically flavonoids) in orange juice, in particular, have been thought to affect cholesterol metabolism in the liver.
Orange juice also contains high amounts of vitamin C, folate and potassium. These nutrients prevent LDL oxidation, lower plasma homocysteine concentrations, and contribute to lower blood pressure, respectively.
An OJ a Day Keeps Cholesterol at Bay
With this knowledge, researchers hypothesized that consuming orange juice, along with participating in regular aerobic exercise, can prevent heart disease by reducing bad cholesterol and elevating good cholesterol levels.
To prove their hypothesis, researchers recruited 30 premenopausal women between the ages of 30 and 48 weighing 166 lbs, give or take 31 lbs. Based on body mass index measurements, all the participants were either overweight or obese. Inclusion criteria for the study were:
- LDL cholesterol less than 160 mg/dL and triglycerides less than 200 mg/dL
- Irregular or no consumption of orange juice
- No regular exercise regimen
- No diabetes or thyroid or kidney disorders
- No use of hormone replacement therapy
- No use of vitamins or mineral supplements
- No use of cholesterol-lowering medication
Researchers divided the women into two groups of 15. Both the control and experimental groups participated in three one-hour aerobic exercise sessions per week for 90 days, but the experimental group also consumed 500 mL (just over two cups) of orange juice per day, while the control group did not. The diets of both groups were monitored using dietary questionnaires.
Twenty-six women completed the study (13 in each group). The women in the control group lost 2.5 percent body weight, 15 percent body fat, and 2.5 percent of body mass index. The women in the experimental OJ group lost 1.2 percent in body weight and body mass index, and 11.5 percent body fat. Researchers noted that the difference between these two groups was not statistically significant.
One measurement that did end up being statistically significant, however, was the plasma lactate concentration — or the muscle fatigue level caused by lactic acid production during the exercise training sessions. In the control group, the blood lactate concentration dropped by 17 percent, while in the experimental group it dropped by a whopping 27 percent.
The experimental group also showed big changes in cholesterol. Total cholesterol decreased by 5 percent, LDL decreased by 15 percent, and HDL increased by 18 percent. The differences in all cholesterol measurements in the control group were insignificant.
The Best OJ for Your Heart
Based on these study results, adding orange juice to your diet could do your heart and body a lot of good. However, be aware that most commercial fruits juices have little to no nutritional value and contain a lot of sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Fresh squeezed orange juice as a much better nutritional profile, especially if you drink it with its pulp, where all the important flavonoids reside.
For the highest nutritional value, consider squeezing your own juice and retaining all the pulp. If you can’t or don’t want to squeeze your own, then buy 100 percent fresh-squeezed orange juice with the highest pulp concentration.
Also remember that, even though it has nutritional value, orange juice still does contain a lot of sugar — even if it’s the natural kind. When it comes down to it, sugar is sugar, and too much of it doesn’t do anyone any good. So, as with all things, practice moderation when drinking orange juice.
 Aptekmann N and Cesar T. Orange juice improved lipid profile and blood lactate of overweight middle-aged women subjected to aerobic training. Maturitas. 2010 Dec;67(4):343–347.