Citrus is usually a good choice for those following a low fructose diet. Grapefruit, lemons and limes have much less fructose than fruits like apples and grapes. But what about oranges? Are they low fructose, too, or the exception to the rule? Really, it depends.
Most oranges are low fructose, but type and portion size matter. One small clementine or tangerine has less than 3 grams of fructose, while a large navel orange has just over 3 grams of fructose. Depending on type and size, then, oranges can fall within low fructose guidelines.
In this post we’ll look at the fructose content of oranges and orange juice. Depending on how you measure fructose, oranges are usually low or moderate in fructose. But orange juice? Well, that’s a totally different story.
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High Fructose versus Low Fructose
Before we get started, you should know that there isn’t a single definition for what makes foods high and low fructose. Scientists in different fields measure fructose in different ways.
One way, the excess fructose rule, is widely used in low FODMAP research, but isn’t used much outside the FODMAP community. The other two ways, total fructose and percent fructose, are more common. The following sections briefly define the three fructose measures.
Excess Fructose Rule
FODMAP researchers define foods as high and low FODMAP, and thus high and low fructose, using the excess fructose rule. This rule compares the amount of fructose to the amount of glucose in foods. If there is more glucose than fructose, a food has no excess fructose and is thus considered low fructose and low FODMAP.
Foods that have more fructose than glucose are classified as high/low FODMAP and high/low fructose based on the amount of excess fructose. FODMAP guidelines state that foods with .40 grams or more excess fructose are high FODMAP and high fructose. If a food has less than .40 grams of excess fructose per serving, it’s low FODMAP and low fructose.1
This is assuming that fructose is the only FODMAP found in a food. If another FODMAP, like polyols, is also in a food, then the amount of excess fructose should be less than .15 grams.1 Since fructose is typically the only FODMAP in fruit, we’ll use the .40 gram threshold in this post.
Fructose Guidelines Summary Table
|Excess fructose||.15 to .40 grams|
|Percent fructose||less than 50%|
|Total fructose||3 grams or less|
Total Fructose Rule
The total fructose rule is simple: if a food has 3 grams of fructose or less per serving, it’s low fructose. If it has more than three grams fructose per serving, it’s high fructose.2
Honestly, I find this cutoff a bit arbitrary. There are some fruits, like grapes, which are clearly high fructose. As I discussed in this post on high fructose fruits, a half a cup of grapes has 8 to 10 grams of fructose.
But there are plenty of fruits that fall much closer to the 3 gram threshold. For example, a half a cup of fresh blueberries has 3.68 grams of fructose. It doesn’t seem fair to lump blueberries in the same category as grapes, which have nearly three times as much fructose.
For this reason, I use a low-moderate-high fructose scale. You can see my list of moderate fructose fruits, those with 3 to 5 grams of fructose per serving, in my post on low fructose fruits.
Percent Fructose Rule
Like total fructose, the percent fructose rule is also easy to understand and remember: if fructose makes up less than 50% of the total sugar in a food, then the food is low fructose. If fructose accounts for more than 50% of total sugar, then the food is high fructose.3
While this rule is fairly easy to remember, it does require you to know a lot more about the composition of a food. Just knowing total sugar content isn’t enough. Instead, you need to know how much of the sugar is fructose versus glucose versus sucrose. So, while easy to understand and remember, this rule is often harder to actually use.
In the following sections, we’ll look at the fructose content of three popular orange types: clementines, tangerines and navel oranges. We’ll go over the excess fructose, total fructose and percent fructose for each. Then we’ll turn our attention to orange juice.
How Much Fructose is in an Orange?
Fructose content varies by type of orange. Clementines, a type of mandarin orange, have less fructose than other oranges, but they’re also much smaller in size. You’ve likely seen them in the grocery store under brand names like Halos, Sweeties or Cuties.4
Tangerines are also a type of mandarin orange and are typically larger than clementines. In the United States, tangerines are commonly called mandarins.5 Clementines and tangerines have a nearly identical nutritional profile, but values for tangerines tend to be higher, since they’re a larger fruit.
When people say “orange,” they’re usually referring to larger, baseball-to-softball sized fruit. Several kinds of large oranges are grown in the United States. One is the Valencia. Grown mostly in Florida, Valencias are ripe for only a few months during the summer and, since they contain few seeds, 90% of those grown in Florida are used in making orange juice.6
The larger oranges sold at your local grocery store are usually navel oranges, most of which are grown in California. We’ll look at fructose values for navels, along with clementines and tangerines, now.
Total Fructose in Oranges
|Navel orange, large||3.15|
The preceding table shows that a small clementine or small tangerine has less than 3 grams of fructose. So, these two fruits are considered low fructose under the total fructose rule.
A large navel orange has just over 3 grams of fructose, so would be classified as high fructose. As mentioned earlier, I find this cutoff rather arbitrary, so I consider navel oranges of this size moderate, rather than high, fructose.
For reference, a small tangerine is about 2.25 inches in diameter, so a small clementine would be less than 2 inches in diameter. A large navel orange is about 3 inches in diameter. These are rough estimates; the fruit you find in the store may be smaller or, in the case of navel oranges, much larger, depending on the season.
Percent Fructose in Oranges
|Navel orange, large||11.90||3.15||2.76||5.99||26.47%|
As shown in the table above, the percent fructose in all three types of oranges is well below the 50% threshold. So, when using percent fructose as a rule, clementines, tangerines and navel oranges are all classified low fructose. This is a great example of how the way you measure fructose really matters.
Excess Fructose in Oranges
|Navel orange, large||.39|
This table shows the excess fructose in the three types of oranges. To measure excess fructose, we just subtract the amount of glucose from the amount of fructose. These numbers are included in the “percent fructose” table.
You can see that clementines have very little excess fructose, while tangerines have navel oranges have considerably more. Remember, the low FODMAP guideline is that a food should have .40 grams of excess fructose or less. So, all three oranges are considered low FODMAP at the sizes shown, with navel oranges just barely falling within the threshold.
To summarize, small clementines and tangerines are considered low fructose regardless of which of the three fructose measures you use. Large navel oranges are low fructose when using the percent fructose rule, but are really borderline when using the excess fructose and/or the total fructose rules.
Depending on your tolerance, you may be able to fit navel oranges into your diet. But, if you find they give you digestive trouble, then switching to smaller clementines or tangerines may work.
While oranges are generally low to moderate fructose, the same can’t be said for orange juice. Let’s turn our attention to that now.
Fructose Content of Orange Juice
Like nearly all fruit juices, orange juice is high in fructose. I know this seems contradictory, since oranges are usually low or moderate fructose. To understand why juices are so much higher in fructose than the fruits from which they’re made, it helps to know a bit about FODMAPs in general.
FODMAPs are water-soluble carbohydrates. This means that FODMAPs dissolve in water. So, when oranges are juiced, the skin, most of the pulp, the seeds and membranes are left behind. What’s left is just the juice and the dissolved fructose in the juice.
There’s really not a good way to remove dissolved fructose from juice. And we wouldn’t really want to, since fructose sweetens the juice and helps give it taste. But, since it takes three oranges to make single cup of orange juice, there will always be much more fructose in a cup of juice than in a single orange.7
By the way, this is also the reason that milk contains lactose. Lactose is also a water-soluble carbohydrate. But manufacturers have developed methods of removing lactose from milk without affecting taste. I don’t think there’s been much experimenting with removing fructose from juice, though.
Okay, back to the topic at hand: the fructose content of orange juice.
Fructose in Orange Juice
|Serving Size||Total Sugar|
The table above breaks down the sugar composition of 8 ounces of chilled orange juice, the kind you buy in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. As shown, 8 ounces of prepared orange juice has about 5.5 grams of fructose. So, based on the total fructose rule of 3 grams per serving, orange juice is classified as high fructose.
However, using the percent fructose rule, orange juice is considered low fructose. Fructose makes up only 27% of the total sugar in orange juice.
Finally, an 8 ounce glass of orange juice just squeaks by the low FODMAP standard for excess fructose. A glass contains .37 grams of fructose, only slightly under the .40 grams per serving FODMAP rule.
So, those eating low FODMAP may be able to incorporate orange juice into their diet. As someone who can’t have much fructose at all, I’d start with a much smaller serving when testing my tolerance, though.
Conclusion: Oranges are Low Fructose (Usually)
Oranges, in raw form, are usually low fructose. Small clementines, tangerines and navel oranges all fall within low fructose guidelines, regardless of which fructose measure you use. Large navel oranges, those 3 inches in diameter or greater, are moderate to high fructose, depending on size. Generally speaking, though, oranges are low fructose, just like most other citrus fruits.
However, things change when it comes to orange juice. Due to the high sucrose content of orange juice, the percent fructose in the juice is still far below low fructose guidelines. However, an 8 ounce glass of orange juice contains nearly double the recommended amount of total fructose. And the same glass just barely falls within low FODMAP guidelines for excess fructose.
The take home message here is that you can probably fit oranges into a low fructose diet, but you have to be careful about the types of oranges you eat and in what form. You might do just fine drinking orange juice, but many of us sensitive to fructose may only be able to tolerate small amounts of orange juice.
Personally, I have to water down orange juice considerably to make it digestible. But I usually try to avoid orange and other fruit juices altogether.
I am able to eat raw oranges. But even here I watch my intake. If it’s a particularly large navel orange, I often divide it into two servings. I have much better luck with little clementine oranges and have no trouble eating one Cutie or Halo.
As with everything digestion-related, it comes down to your individual system and tolerance. If you’re incorporating (or reincorporating) oranges into your diet, you may want to start with clementines or small tangerines, if they’re available in your local market.
Posts Related to “Are Oranges High in Fructose?”
If you’re interested in learning more about the fructose content of different foods, I have several posts you may want to read.
The first post has a list of fruits that are high in fructose. The truth is, most fruits are low or moderate fructose, so you may be surprised at how short this high fructose fruits list is.
As for moderate and lower fructose fruits, you can learn more about them in my detailed post on low fructose fruits. It’s a fairly lengthy post with lots of info, just FYI.
I also mentioned a post on high fructose foods. That post includes orange juice as well as many other fruit juices, and also contains fructose values for other beverages.
Finally, as noted here, most citrus is low fructose. One of the lowest fructose citrus fruits is grapefruit, which you can read more about in this post on FODMAPs in grapefruit.
About the Author
Amanda Coleman, PhD, studies food culture and teaches a popular Food and Society course. Years of digestive problems led her to live low FODMAP. Now she uses her research and analysis skills to help others understand FODMAP essentials, so they can lead better, healthier lives.
Disclaimer: the author is not a certified medical professional. Opinions expressed and content contained on this website are for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Exercise caution and due diligence when using this site and the information contained herein and understand your experiences may vary.