Health Benefits of Grapefruit

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on August 31, 2023
6 min read

Grapefruits are citrus fruits that grow on trees in subtropical climates. They're about the size of softballs and have bright yellow to pinkish peels, depending on the variety. The flesh inside can be different colors, too, including pink and yellow to dark red. Grapefruits are very acidic and usually slightly sweet but sour.

More than 20 varieties of grapefruits are grown in the U.S., mostly in Florida, Texas, and California. Grapefruits are likely native to Barbados.

Grapefruits are full of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients and low in calories. They're popular as a breakfast food and as part of weight loss diets.

They have other potential health benefits, too, such as:

Support the immune system

Like many citrus fruits, grapefruits are loaded with vitamin C, which helps support your body's immune system. They also have vitamin A, which helps maintain your immune function.

Help with weight management

An average-size grapefruit has about 4 grams of fiber. Eating even half of one can slow down digestion and help you feel full. A high-fiber diet might help you manage your weight, which could help prevent more serious medical problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Reduce the risk of kidney stones

Several things can cause painful kidney stones, from your diet to your family history. The citrate (citric acid) in grapefruits may help stop some types of kidney stones from coming back. But you'd have to eat or drink a lot of grapefruits every day, so a citric acid supplement might be a better option.

There's a reason why grapefruits are sometimes called superfoods. They're full of fiber and low in calories. They're a good source of:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • Calcium
  • Iron

Nutrients per serving

Half of a medium grapefruit contains:

  • Calories: 39
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: 0 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 8.41 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram
  • Sugar: 7.31 grams
  • Protein: 0.62 grams

Grapefruit and medications

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can change the way some medications work, including prescription drugs that treat high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis. Other drugs, including some antianxiety drugs, antihistamines, and organ-transplant rejection drugs also might not work properly.

Your body breaks down these medicines in your small intestine with an enzyme called CYP3A4. Grapefruit juice may block how CYP3A4 works, causing more of these medicines to reach your bloodstream and last longer in your body.

Grapefruit and statins

Statins are medicines you take to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Too much statin in your blood can cause mild side effects. Grapefruits have a stronger effect on some types of statins than others.

Grapefruit and antidepressants

Some drugs for depression and anxiety also interact with grapefruits. They include benzodiazepines, some serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as sertraline (Zoloft), and buspirone (BuSpar) that treats both anxiety and depression.

Talk to your doctor to see if you need to avoid grapefruit because of your medications.

To eat a fresh grapefruit, cut it in half (the inside will resemble an orange). Use a sharp knife to separate the segments from the white pith and membranes, and then scoop the segments out with a spoon. Depending on the variety, the grapefruit might taste sour, so some people sprinkle a little sugar on top.

Try these other options for adding grapefruits to your diet:

  • Freeze grapefruit segments and add them to smoothies
  • Broil grapefruit halves topped with brown sugar and cinnamon
  • Make a grapefruit salsa as topping for fish
  • Add grapefruits to a salad as a healthy alternative to salad dressing
  • Make a quinoa bowl with grapefruit and avocado

Grapefruit essential oil is made from the peel of a grapefruit. It's thought to have many medicinal benefits, from lowering blood pressure and providing stress relief to protecting skin.

It's long been used in skin ointments and creams, as well as in aromatherapy.

There's not much research into the possible benefits of grapefruit oil. But early studies show it could have these effects:

Antibacterial powers

Grapefruit essential oil has limonene, a compound that can kill or stop many microorganisms. One study found that Citricidal (a type of grapefruit seed extract) combined with geranium oil was effective against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a staph infection that's hard to treat with antibiotics.

Disease-fighting antioxidants

Studies show that grapefruit essential oil is rich in antioxidants. One test-tube study found that antioxidants in grapefruit essential oil might help help stop some cancer cells from growing. But it's not clear whether it might have these benefits in humans.

Grapefruit oil may have other benefits when used as part of aromatherapy or applied to the skin:

Reduces blood pressure and stress

Aromatherapy is used around the world to reduce stress and promote healing. In this type of therapy, you can inhale essential oils or use them during massage. There's some evidence that aromatherapy with various types of essential oils could lower heart rate and reduce stress. But we need more research to confirm these benefits.

Prevents and relieves skin problems

Plant-based oils have been used to heal the body since the times of ancient Egypt. Today, you can find essential oils in all kinds of skin products (topical medications), like lotions, moisturizers, and ointments. They're good for treating skin problems like acne, athlete's foot, ringworm, and inflammation.

Grapefruit essential oil is mostly harmless if you use it on your skin or for aromatherapy. But there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Misuse. Essential oils are largely safe when you use them correctly. They can, however, be poisonous if you consume them in high doses by mouth. They might irritate your skin if you don't properly dilute them before you use them.
  • Photosensitivity. Some essential oils have compounds that make your skin more sensitive to sunburn, itching, blisters, and rash.
  • Pets. Essential oils can be harmful to cats and dogs, so watch your pets if you use them.
  • Pregnancy. People have used essential oils safely to help with stress and headaches during pregnancy and the anxiety and pain of labor. But talk to your doctor before you try essential oils because research on the topic is very limited.

Because essential oils are so strong, you have to mix them in water or other oils (called carriers) before you use them. How much carrier you need depends on what you're using the oils for. But a safe solution will contain no more than 3%-5% of the essential oil. Here are some ways to use them:

  • Massage oil: Mix a few drops of essential oil with a carrier oil.
  • Aromatherapeutic bath: Mix about five to six drops in a tub of water.
  • Gargle: Add one drop of oil to a full glass of water. Do not swallow it; gargle it and spit it out.

The best way to add the scent of an essential oil to a room is to use a diffuser.

Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) is made from the seeds, pulp, and membranes of grapefruits. Don't confuse it with grapefruit essential oils or grapeseed extract. It's sold as supplements, some of which claim to help with digestion, bladder, heart health, and even brainpower. But supplements aren't regulated by the FDA like prescription drugs, and there's little research that supports these claims.

Studies show that many GSE products are contaminated with lab-made disinfectants. These chemicals can interfere with other medicines you take.

GSE is thought to have powerful antibacterial properties. But there's conflicting research about this. Some studies say this effect is because of the added chemicals not the GSE itself.

But other research shows GSE helps keep bacteria from growing in fruit, vegetables, and meat when it's added to food packaging or food coatings. Lab research has shown that it can work against several drug-resistant bacterial infections. But it's not clear whether it might have this effect in humans.

Always talk to your doctor before you start taking a supplement.