You may have noticed that your local grocery store produce department is packed full of beautiful, winter citrus fruits. Winter brings a wide variety of juicy, tangy oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and even kumquats, making it the perfect time to feast on citrus.
Citrus fruits are some of the best sources of Vitamin C and can play a powerful role in providing seasonal immune support. They’re also a powerful antioxidant that can help prevent inflammation and neutralize the free radicals that damage healthy cells. Vitamin C is essential for building collagen, an important body protein that provides structure and elasticity for building strong connective tissue including skin, heart, blood vessels, bones, ligaments, tendons and dentin (teeth). Other nutrition benefits of citrus include an impressive list of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and flavonoids with no fat, cholesterol or sodium.
Oranges have more that 170 different phytonutrients and more than 60 flavonoids which have been shown to fight blood clots, inflammation and cancer. Many of the cancer fighting nutrients are found in the orange pigment that colors citrus fruits.
Rather than drinking just a glass of fresh juice, I recommend eating the whole fruit which has fiber, up to five times more flavonoids and less effect on blood sugar. You might even consider washing the peel and adding some to citrus smoothies. The peel is incredibly aromatic, infuses a bright flavor burst when blended, and adds pectin and zest where carotenoid pigments and fragrant oils are found. The peel also contains Vitamin C and folate, dozens of phytonutrients and antioxidants. Look for organic citrus, shown to have significantly higher amounts of Vitamin C than non-organic. You should also avoid possible artificial dyes included in some oranges as well as petroleum-based wax, especially if you plan to eat some of the peel and zest.
When eating citrus, include it as part a balanced meal. An orange, tangerine or grapefruit is a carbohydrate food with a medium glycemic rating. Balance it with protein and fat to help keep blood sugar steady.
Winter is the ideal time to try the many different varieties of citrus available. You can’t go wrong with Valencia, Navel, or Florida oranges, but if you’ve never tried a blood orange, they are high in anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant not found in most citrus. Mandarin oranges are a variety of the orange family and commonly known as tangerines. Satsuma and Clementines (Cuties) are favorites I look forward to every year. The Minneola tangelo—a cross between a grapefruit, tangerine and a Kumquat—is a tart, tiny little fruit you can eat, skin and all.
The grapefruit is a cross between an orange and a pomelo with white, pink and red pulp of varying sweetness. The pomelo is a very large grapefruit that looks like a giant lime but easier to peel. Also, be sure to check with you pharmacist or physician if you are taking any medications as grapefruit can have interactions with certain drugs.
When buying lemons and limes, be sure to try two of my favorites varieties, the thin-skinned Meyer lemons and the tiny Key limes.
So enjoy the citrus fruit of the winter season. It’s a great time to try new varieties while enjoying all of the health benefits they provide.
Joyce Daoust is a Certified Nutritionist, Balance Bar spokesperson and national best-selling co-author of THE FORMULA, A Personalized 40-30-30 Weight Loss Program.