Are mandarin oranges OK on keto?

Quick Answer

Mandarin oranges can fit into a keto diet in moderation. A 1/2 cup serving of mandarin oranges contains 15 grams of net carbs. The keto diet recommends limiting net carbs to 20-50 grams per day. While mandarin oranges are high in carbs and sugar compared to other fruits, their carb count may fit into a more moderate low-carb diet. Mandarin oranges provide vitamin C, thiamine, potassium and antioxidant benefits. Those on a stricter keto diet should avoid mandarin oranges or only eat them occasionally in very small portions.

What are Mandarin Oranges?

Mandarin oranges, also known as tangerines, are a type of citrus fruit that is closely related to oranges. There are several varieties of mandarin oranges, with some common types being Clementines, Satsumas and Tangos. Mandarin oranges tend to be smaller and sweeter than regular oranges. They also have a flatter shape and loose skin that makes them easy to peel. The oranges originated in Southeast Asia but are now grown worldwide in warm climates. The name “mandarin” comes from the orange robes worn by mandarins in Imperial China.

Nutrition Facts

Here are the nutrition facts for 1/2 cup of mandarin orange sections (87g) according to the USDA:

Calories 60
Fat 0.2g
Sodium 1mg
Carbs 15g
Fiber 2g
Sugar 12g
Protein 1g

As you can see, half a cup of mandarin orange sections contains 60 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates. It has 12 grams of natural sugar but minimal fat or protein. Mandarin oranges are also a good source of vitamin C, providing 40% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) in just 1/2 cup. They also contain some thiamine, folate, potassium and copper.

Are Mandarin Oranges Keto-Friendly?

So can you eat mandarin oranges on a keto diet? Mandarin oranges are high in carbs and sugar compared to other fruits. A typical keto diet limits carbs to 20-50 grams per day. This means a 1/2 cup serving of mandarin oranges takes up a substantial portion of your daily carb allowance.

However, mandarin oranges may be able to fit into a more moderate low-carb diet, depending on your carbohydrate tolerance and goals. Some people may be able to stay in ketosis with 50 grams of carbs or more per day. In that case, incorporating a small serving of mandarin oranges from time to time may be feasible.

Here’s a quick overview of whether mandarin oranges can fit into different low-carb diet approaches:

Strict Keto (20-30g carbs per day)

Not recommended – A 1/2 cup serving would likely knock you out of ketosis.

Moderate Keto (30-50g carbs per day)

Occasionally in small servings – A few orange segments (about 1/4 cup) may fit into your daily carb limit.

Liberal Keto (50-100g carbs per day)

Yes, in moderation – Half a cup serving should be fine if it fits within your carb goal for the day.

So in general, the more restrictive your carbohydrate intake, the less compatible mandarin oranges will be with your keto diet. Those following a strict keto diet likely need to avoid mandarin oranges altogether. But some people may be able to incorporate them in small amounts without disrupting ketosis.

Blood Sugar Impact

In addition to their carb content, mandarin oranges have a high glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar.

Mandarin oranges have a GI of 65, which is considered a high GI food. For comparison, regular oranges have a GI of 44, which is moderate on the glycemic index chart.

This means mandarin oranges will cause a quicker, more significant spike in blood sugar levels compared to other fruits. This is important to keep in mind for people with diabetes or insulin resistance trying to manage their blood sugar response.

Other Fruits With Lower Carbs

If you decide mandarin oranges don’t fit your keto carb budget, here are some better fruit options to consider instead:


Berries like raspberries, blackberries and strawberries are all keto-approved options. They contain about 5-10 grams of carbs per cup. Berries provide fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants and flavanols that benefit heart health.


Also known as carambola fruit, starfruit is a tropical fruit that contains just 5 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber per starfruit. It’s rich in vitamin C and low glycemic.


Watermelon has a carb count of 7.5 grams in a one cup serving. It’s also very hydrating and full of lycopene, an antioxidant that may protect against cancer and heart disease.


At 8 grams of carbs per cup, cantaloupe is one of the lowest carb melons you can choose. It also provides over 100% of your vitamin A needs in one serving.


Lemons and limes contain just 5 grams of carbs each. They add delicious flavor to water and foods without spiking blood sugar.


Technically a fruit, avocados have less than 3 grams of carbs per serving and are loaded with healthy fats.

Health Benefits of Mandarin Oranges

While mandarin oranges may need to be limited on keto, they do offer some health benefits:

High in Vitamin C

One serving of mandarin oranges provides 40% of the RDI for vitamin C. Vitamin C supports a healthy immune system and aids the absorption of iron.

May Lower Inflammation

The antioxidant properties in mandarin oranges can help fight inflammation. They contain flavonoids like tangeretin and nobiletin that have been linked to anti-inflammatory effects.

Support Heart Health

The combination of antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium and naringin in mandarin oranges can promote heart health. They may help lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol as part of a healthy diet.

May Have Anticancer Effects

Some early test tube and animal studies report the phytochemicals in mandarin orange peels could block the growth and spread of cancer cells. However, more research is needed.

Contribute to Healthy Skin

Vitamin C plays a key role in collagen production, which keeps skin firm and strong. The vitamin C in mandarin oranges can support healthy, youthful-looking skin when eaten in moderation.

Easy to Add to Diet

Mandarin oranges are readily available, portable and easy to peel and eat. While they may not be keto-approved, they can still be enjoyed occasionally by those following a low-carb diet. A few segments make a convenient snack or sweet treat.

Downsides of Eating Too Many

While mandarin oranges offer some benefits, there are a few downsides to consider if you eat too many:

High in Carbs and Sugar

The main concern with mandarin oranges is their high carb and sugar content. Just one serving tops your limit on a strict keto diet. Too many servings could hinder ketosis.

May Spike Blood Sugar

With a high GI of 65, mandarin oranges can spike blood sugar and insulin for those with diabetes or prediabetes. Portion control is key.

Can Contribute to Overeating

The sweet taste and easy peel-and-eat nature of clementines may lead to overdoing it. It’s important to weigh or measure portions to keep servings in check.

Some Pesticide Residue Risk

Mandarin oranges made the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list for highest pesticide residues in 2006 and 2009. Buying organic mandarins can help reduce this risk.

Acid May Irritate GERD

The acidic citrus juice in mandarin oranges may irritate symptoms of acid reflux or GERD. Those with reflux issues may want to avoid them.

Tips for Incorporating into Keto Diet

If you want to work mandarin oranges into your keto or low-carb diet, here are some tips to do so:

– Stick to a 1/4 cup serving max to limit carbs

– Pair with protein or fat like nuts or cheese to slow digestion

– Time intake before or after exercise when carb tolerance is higher

– Select varieties lower in sugar like Clementines

– Choose organic mandarins to reduce pesticide exposure

– Drink water with mandarins to dilute the sugar impact

– Skip if you have reflux, diabetes, weight loss stalls or strict keto goals

– Test blood ketones after eating to ensure you stay in ketosis

The Bottom Line

Mandarin oranges contain 15 grams of carbs per serving, so they are not considered keto-friendly. Those on a strict keto diet likely need to avoid them completely or only have them rarely in tiny portions. People with more moderate carbohydrate intake may be able to incorporate half a serving of mandarins in moderation if carbs are accounted for. While mandarins can raise blood sugar and stall weight loss for some, they can be included in small amounts on a less restrictive low-carb diet. Focus on keeping servings small and be mindful of your body’s response to determine if mandarin oranges fit your individual carb tolerance and keto diet.

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