Being a certain weight, whether smaller or bigger, is strongly associated with feelings of self-esteem and confidence and can generate happiness and a positive mindset that bolster personal and professional success. In this day and age, it is more commonly expected of people to be slimmer, with the beauty industry continuing to promote being underweight as the beauty standard. And since conforming to the unwritten cultural norms of society is almost programmed into us, the current need to be thinner and thinner has fueled this neverending search for the ultimate weight loss diet that somehow magically allows us to shed pound after pound with minimal or no effort. One of these new it-diets or fad-diets is the orange weight loss diet which, in theory, promotes weight loss thanks to unique natural compounds in the bitter orange with impressive fat-burning and hunger-suppressing properties.
Bitter oranges and weight loss
Proponents of the weight loss orange theory will say that it’s not just any orange that has fat-burning properties, but the bitter orange. Why would bitter oranges help you lose weight, but sweet ones wouldn’t? The orange itself is a cross between two different citrus fruits: the mandarin (Citrus reticulata) and the pomelo (Citrus maxima, Citrus grandis). There are dozens of different orange varieties with varying degrees of sweetness, acidity, varying rind and pith thickness, pulp juiciness etc. Two of the most popular varieties are the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and the bitter or sour orange or the Seville orange (Citrus aurantium).
The difference between the two varieties is obvious from the common names: sweet oranges are sweet, while bitter oranges are bitter, sour, tart or highly acidic, often times too bitter or sour to be eaten raw. (Which is why the primary uses for bitter oranges are marmalade, bitters, aperitif or appetizer beverages, perfumes, food additives etc.). This marked difference in taste and flavor profile indicates variations in the bioactive compounds profile of the fruit. That is, the bitter orange contains several different biologically active compounds from the sweet orange, some of which are responsible for its unpalatable taste, but also weight loss properties. It is these compounds that apparently recommend it as a good food for losing weight.
The bitter orange contains tyramine metabolites which are naturally-occurring organic compounds that mimic the biological effects of the hormone and neurotransmitter known as epinephrine. Epinephrine is a natural product of human metabolism responsible for the effects seen in the fight-or-flight response. The compounds in bitter orange, the tyramine metabolites, basically act as stimulants and generate effects similar to epinephrine: constriction of blood vessels that causes a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, increase in respiratory rate, increased blood flow to muscles, stimulation of glycogenesis in the liver which causes the breakdown of fats to release energy and raise blood sugar levels (fueling the body to fight or fly) and so on.
These compounds basically put the body in a heightened state of alertness which increases metabolism energy requirements and initiates a process of energy release from fat deposits in the body. Extracts of the fruit containing concentrated amounts of these stimulant compounds are marketed as having appetite-suppressing and fat-burning properties and are behind the bitter orange weight loss theory. However, in the amounts they are meant to be consumed safely, they generate insignificant weight loss benefits at most, usually also in conjunction with other stimulant elements with hunger-suppressing properties such as caffeine, capsaicin and others.
Bitter orange weight loss pills
Because the bitter orange is too unpalatable to eat raw, it is made into dietary supplements marketed as having hunger-suppressing, fat-burning, metabolism-enhancing or metabolism-boosting properties. You can easily find bitter orange weight loss pills, bitter orange extract supplements for weight loss or other medicinal uses or dried and ground fruit peel, pith and pulp with indications for both medicinal and food use for sale online, in health food stores and even at the supermarket.
But all of these products are not always very safe to use. They can cause serious side effects, especially when used together with medication such as anti-depressants, some antibiotics, statins and diabetes/blood sugar-regulating medication. Bitter orange weight loss pills and other products are suspected to cause minor to severe side effects such as dizziness, headaches, insomnia, arrhythmia/irregular heartbeat, overheating, malaise, even serious cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.
Eating bitter oranges to lose weight?
If bitter orange weight loss pills and other dietary supplements pose such serious risks for health, is eating the whole fruit a viable, results-provoking solution for weight loss? Not really. First of all, the fruit would not contain the biologically active compounds with weight loss-promoting properties in concentrated enough amounts to produce measurable effects, or effects comparable to those of the dietary supplements (which are insignificant anyway). Any amount of fruit that would produce the same measure of effects as the supplements will also cause the same extent of side effects, some quite severe (ex: heart attack, stroke).
Secondly, the bitter orange is quite an unpalatable fruit: it tastes so tart that you can’t or won’t want to eat it raw or by itself. The taste alone greatly discourages consumption, hence the popularity of the dietary supplements (the reason it is also known as the marmalade orange is because marmalade is what it’s commonly used for because of its taste). If it would have been possible to eat it as a whole fruit, in reasonable amounts, as part of a varied, balanced and natural diet, it could have contributed to weight loss because of its low calorie content.
Considering that losing weight with bitter orange supplements does not produce any significant weight loss, if any at all, it is feared that the risks associated with consumption of the supplements outweigh the benefits, especially for anyone on any kind of medication for a chronic condition, especially anyone with history of cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular events such as stroke. When consumed in normal food amounts, if possible given the taste, the bitter orange is safe to eat, or at least as safe as the grapefruit, a fruit with similar health concerns. Also see Can you eat grapefruit with diabetes?
For successful and healthy weight loss, making sure you have a negative energy balance is key: eating less calories than your body needs to run basic metabolic processes and fuel your level of physical activity. If eating less calories is not sustainable for you, a good solution is to increase physical exercise to the point you burn energy excesses. What also helps is to make smarter dietary choices such as: choose foods with lower energetic values (fruits, vegetables, lean meat or eggs); avoid processed foods; eat foods as close to their natural state as possible; prepare your own meals etc. And come to terms with the fact that healthy, significant weight loss is a journey that requires effort and dedication to eating and living healthier.