Oranges are more than an on-the-go healthy snack food. They're also incredibly beneficial for all digestive processes. They keep you hydrated, improve nutrient absorption and can also improve regularity. Don't eat too many at once, though. Too much of this flavorful citrus fruit can lead to more problems than benefits.
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Hydrating Your Digestive Tract
Normal digestion requires a steady supply of water, and oranges have a lot of it. A small orange that is about 2 1/2 inches in diameter gives you around 4 ounces of water. Your recommended fluid intake is 91 ounces per day if you are a woman or 125 ounces daily if you are a man, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine states. A single small orange helps you meet 3 percent to 4 percent of your fluid requirement, depending on your gender.
Improving Nutrient Absorption
Roughly two-thirds of the 3 grams of fiber in a small 2 1/2-inch orange is soluble. This type of fiber attracts and absorbs liquid matter in your gut. When it does this, it creates a thick gel material that makes digestive transit times slow down. By delaying digestion a bit, the soluble fiber gel gives crucial nutrients -- vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, glucose and amino acids -- adequate time to be absorbed in your small intestine. Without the power of soluble fiber, those nutrients may sneak out through waste and never get absorbed.
Sweeping Out Your Bowels
The rest of the fiber content in oranges is insoluble. This type of fiber acts as a pint-sized street sweeper in your bowels. It doesn't absorb fluid like soluble fiber does. Rather, it keeps its natural sturdy form. As insoluble fiber particles move through, they gather fragments of waste and make your fecal matter soft and bulky. With the help of insoluble fiber, you'll be more likely to have easy-passing stools regularly.
When Problems Arise
The high fiber content of an orange may cause digestive problems if you eat a lot of them, especially if you don't normally have much fiber. The sudden fiber spike could leave you with bouts of diarrhea. In some cases, fiber has the reverse effect, leaving you constipated. Aim to meet your recommendation -- 14 grams for every 1,000 calories, according to the publication "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" -- but increase fiber in your diet gradually. If one orange makes your belly rumble, eat just half next time and save some for later. Every few days, increase your portion a little, as long as you can tolerate it.
- Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Electrolytes and Water
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fiber
- Nutrition Reviews: Water, Hydration and Health
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Oranges, Raw, All Commercial Varieties
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: The Digestive System and How It Works