Sweet, juicy, and colorful, citrus fruits give us a much needed dose of sunshine during wintertime. Popular for their flu-fighting properties, they are already an important part of our arsenal when it comes to boosting our immune system. However, the full extent of their benefits on our health remains unknown, which is a shame.
Packed with nutrients and antioxidants, citrus fruits have a lot to offer. They help our bodies get rid of free radicals and positively impact a range of metabolic functions to help us thrive. What’s even better? Citruses can be enjoyed in a myriad of ways, from casual snack to elaborate desserts.
Want to know more about the amazing health benefits and uses of these winter fruits? We’ve got the deets for you, including a ton of delicious citrusy recipes from the Create Better Health Tooele County Facebook page.
What are citrus fruits?
Native to Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia, and possibly South East Asia, citrus fruits are among the world’s most popular fruit crops. You can find them growing on flowering trees and shrubs in tropical and subtropical climates. In the US, the major hubs of cultivation include Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas. In the Northern Hemisphere, the peak season of citrus extends from around mid-December to the end of April.
Types of citruses abound on the markets as hybridization — combining two or more varieties or species to produce a fruit with desirable traits — is prevalent with this fruit crop. However, the core varieties of citruses can be divided between sweet oranges (Valencia, Navel, Cara Cara, blood orange); mandarins (Satsuma, Clementines, tangor, tangelo, tangerines); grapefruit (White, Ruby Red, oroblanco); limes (Persian, Key Lime, Keffir); and lemons (Meyer, Eureka).
Why citrus fruits are good for our health
As their popularity for fighting colds and the flu indicates, citruses are packed with vitamin C. They also offer a host of other vitamins and minerals such as B-vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, copper, magnesium, calcium, and dietary fibers. These nutrients along with the various types of antioxidant compounds found in citrus perform important functions that are protective against diseases and support our health. Here are some of their preventive qualities:
1. Heart health
Citrus fruits contain a high amount of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant whose consumption is linked with a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk. The cardiovascular protective effects of these antioxidants are attributed to their impact on blood lipid, blood glucose, and vascular function. Namely, flavonoids help decrease the progression of atherosclerosis through their action on lipid metabolism. They also improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood pressure. All of which are important factors in the development of heart disease.
2. Prevent cancer
Another upside to flavonoids and the numerous other antioxidant compounds found in citrus (e.g limonoids and coumarins) is their anti-tumor properties. Consuming oranges, limes, and lemons is a good way to protect yourself against gastric cancer, breast cancer, lung tumorigenesis, and colon cancer to name a few. How awesome is that?
3. Brain health
Although fruit juices get a bad rep for being too sugary, it turns out you shouldn’t let go of your glass of fresh O.J. in the morning just yet. Studies indicate that citrus juice improves cognitive functions and prevent cognitive decline in older adults. These effects are due to the flavonoids antioxidants found in citruses. These compounds fight free radicals and protect our brain cells from inflammation-caused deterioration, as is the case in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
4. Regulate blood glucose
Thanks to the conjoint action of antioxidants and fiber, citrus fruits are a great ally when it comes to regulating our blood glucose levels. Due to their role in starch digestion, flavonoids compounds are able to prevent hyperglycemia while also improving insulin sensitivity. Both of which are crucial aspects in keeping our sugar levels stable, especially in diabetes sufferers.
Creative uses of citrus and our favorite recipes
Considering their amazing health benefits and how delicious they are, it’s a no-brainer to make citruses a part of our diet, especially during winter. From breakfast to salad entrées and marinades for meat, there is no shortage of uses for oranges, lemons, and limes. While they’re perfect in healthy meals thanks to their incredible nutrition, citruses also add a great touch to a wide range of desserts.
Apart from their culinary use, citruses make a great ingredient in skin care products. Want to try a simple beauty care trick? Adding citrus to your bath is a good way to remove dead skin cells thanks to their natural acidity. Their scent will also make you feel refreshed and help clear out your sinuses. Simply slice up oranges, lemons, and limes to put in the hot running water as it fills up your bathtub.
Find delicious recipes featuring citrus fruit and other seasonal foods that boost your immune system by following the Create Better Health Tooele County Facebook page and the Create Better Health Utah blog.
Sarah Patino is the Certified Nutrition Educator for Food Sense at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2408 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.