In 2018, the average U.S. citizen consumed 1.5 lbs. of grapefruit. If that sounds like a lot, consider that we actually eat a lot less grapefruit than we did back in the 1970s, when the average was 8.2 lb. per capita. Though we hardly consume grapefruit like we used to, brands like LaCroix, Spindrift, Izze, Tropicana, and Sanpellegrino all sell popular grapefruit-flavored drinks that we can’t get enough of. So, why is it that we’d rather sip our grapefruit flavor rather than scoop the flesh right out of the rind for breakfast like so many Americans used to?
The benefits of grapefruit
A breakfast of fresh grapefruit is a healthy way to get your morning going. Personally, I’m not a fan of the bitter flavor, but I can’t argue with science.
For starters, grapefruit has high water content. Your body always needs water, and hydrating via food is probably much more convenient than attempting to carry around a gallon jug all day, as some of us have tried to do. Plus, grapefruit is a good source of vitamins A and C, both of which help to keep your immune system strong.
Healthline explains that the citric acid found in grapefruit binds with calcium in your kidneys, flushing the calcium out of your body and helping to prevent kidney stones. I’ve never had kidney stones and have no idea what they feel like, but I also wouldn’t like to find out. Eating the occasional grapefruit to prevent that experience just might be worth it.
How grapefruit affects medication
With all these great health benefits, you might wonder why more people aren’t devouring grapefruit halves daily. That might have to do with the fact that since our grapefruit-eating peak in the 1970s, scientific research has linked grapefruit consumption, however indirectly, to some negative health outcomes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a warning on its website explaining that grapefruit and grapefruit juice can influence the effectiveness of certain medications.
Per the FDA, the problem with grapefruit juice is that it can cause more medication to enter the bloodstream than intended, meaning the drug sticks around for longer in your system. That can cause damage and increase the likelihood of side effects. A specific enzyme, CYP3A4, is what helps the body metabolize many medications, but grapefruit juice can sometimes block this enzyme, leading to an excess of medication going to work inside your body.
Depending on what medications you take, however, grapefruit juice can also have the opposite effect, making a drug less effective. In those cases, grapefruit juice blocks certain proteins from delivering the medicine to the body’s cells, decreasing its potency.
Other reasons for grapefruit’s declining popularity
These effects can vary depending on the medication, the person, and the amount of grapefruit juice consumed, but the risk is significant enough that the FDA has required some prescriptions to include a warning label regarding grapefruit.
A Tampa Bay Times article from 2015 posits that the downfall of grapefruit is primarily due this health research on grapefruit and medication. But the article also points out some other key factors, such as the decline in overall fruit juice consumption, the demand for greater on-the-go convenience (which you get with apples and bananas), and, most important of all, the destruction of grapefruit crops by insect-borne disease. Add all that up, and it makes sense that most of us enjoy our grapefruit in small amounts these days, sipped from a can of seltzer.