Citrus Fruit: Much More Than Just Vitamin C

By Halit Yerebakan for Daily Sabah

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Containing a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, reducing high blood pressure, decreasing the risk of heart disease and protecting against cancer, citrus fruit, which are indispensable in wintertime, have much more benefits than you realize

Although they originated from the Asia-Pacific, including South and Southeast Asia and Australia, citrus fruits are now grown worldwide – including in Turkey. For example, orange production currently amounts to about 70 million metric tons a year.

We see orange colored citrus fruits during this season, especially in the months when most of us catch the common cold and flu. I am sure most of you consume these fruits for their vitamin C content, but there is more to these fruits then just that.

Oranges, tangerines, pomelos, grapefruits, lemons and limes are the members of citrus family. They are cultivated in great amounts all around the world for not just only being sweet, tangy and juicy but also for their health benefits.

When it comes to health, citrus fruits do actually give us more than vitamin C. They are rich in flavonoids that have been shown to inhibit cancer growth as well as phytochemicals and wide a variety of other vitamins and minerals. If we take oranges as the major example for this family, a single orange contains more than 170 different phytochemicals and more than 60 flavonoids.

An important aspect of citrus to consider, however, is its ripeness. Oranges should be picked at their peak of ripeness because unlike some other fruits, they do not ripen or improve in quality after being picked. Although it's hard to find good fruits and vegetables during winter, it is the best time as well as the peak season to buy citrus fruits as this is the time when they're ripest. An orange starts to loose its water and vitamin content right after it's picked, so they should be consumed as soon as possible. Additionally, a common practice is to process them with heat tumblers and coat them with beeswax so they'll grab your attention. But because of the heat and time it takes, the fruit looses its nutritional benefits much faster.

Try to look for unprocessed, less attractive and matte finished Washington-type oranges for the best benefits. Moreover, oranges should be stored either in a refrigerator or at room temperature without exposure to direct sunlight. Both storing techniques do not change the fruit's shelf life, which is about two weeks, and both allow the fruits to retain almost the exact same amount of vitamins. However, don't wrap them in a plastic bag; instead, keep them loose so they don't become moldy.

In order to add citrus to your diet plan, I would advise you to keep them in a bowl on the kitchen table instead of filling the bowl with fake decorative fruits. Do so in order to readily see them and choose them over unhealthy snacks. Although it depends on your taste, know that there are different types of oranges to choose from, including navel, mandarin, cara cara navel, blood, Valencia, Washington and Seville, and their overall health benefits and phytochemicals are mostly same.

Oranges are light on calories, so there is nothing to worry about when trying to get your fiber, vitamins and antioxidants from them. It has zero fat and contains almost 100 percent of your required daily dose of vitamin C. Oranges are also like a b-complex supplement, as they contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folic acid and pantothenic acid. Moreover, their essential element contents are a great source of potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, selenium and copper.

As I mentioned, there is more to citrus fruits than just vitamins and minerals. Researchers have recently associated the healing powers of oranges with their phytochemical compounds, which we were not aware of previously. These special compounds include flavonoids such as hesperetin, naringenin, anthocyanins and hydroxycinnamic acids. When these compounds were studied, significant antioxidant properties and health benefits were found, especially among hesperentin and naringenin, which were found to be the most important.

Research has shown that hesperentin and naringenin help to reduce high blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol (LDL). In addition to these effects, they also showed strong anti-inflammatory properties. But surprisingly, research has shown that these compounds are found more heavily in the white pulp and the peel of this fruit instead of the liquid center. Thus, now you know that eating oranges is more beneficial than just drinking the juice! Get the fiber and phytochemical nutrients by eating them with its peel and pulp.

Lowering cholesterol is incredibly important considering our current food and nutritional environment. In fact, a study by U.S. and Canadian researchers published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that compounds in orange peel may lower cholesterol as effectively as statin drugs.

The results indicated that when animals were given diets containing citrus flavonoids tangeretin, hesperidin, and naringin, VLDL and LDL – two types of bad cholesterol – levels were reduced by 19-27 percent and 32-40 percent, respectively. That being said, the white pulp that comes off while you peel the skin of oranges, which you normally throw away, is as valuable as the billion-dollar industry of anti-cholesterol drugs. Yes, this is a big statement, but I believe more research is needed to bolster this claim

If you are planning to stick to orange juice rather than eating it directly, I still have good news for you. A study by Italian researchers published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a glass of orange juice literally is more beneficial than vitamin C supplement tablets. Although these are phenomenally promising statements, let's explore how they reached this finding.

The researchers gave seven healthy test subjects three different drinks: Blood orange juice containing 150 milligrams of vitamin C, fortified water containing 150 milligrams of vitamin C and a sugar and water solution containing no vitamin C. They analyzed DNA damage and found that after drinking orange juice, DNA damage was 18 percent less after three hours and 16 percent less after 24 hours. However, no protection against DNA damage was found after drinking either the vitamin C fortified drink or the sugar and water drink.

There are a lot of other benefits to citrus fruits that I didn't mention here, such as protecting against cancer and decreasing the risk of heart disease. So, go for them while its wintertime because it's citrus time!