Power Up on Citrus Fruits for Health

Brighten your diet, health, and kitchen with a variety of citrus fruits, packed with flavor and nutrition benefits—learn how with these top 5 expert tips to make the most of citrus fruit every day.

Is there nothing better than that bright citrus flavor, aroma, and color in your kitchen? Around the globe, citrus fruits, grown on flowering citrus trees and shrubs, such as oranges, pomelos, grapefruit, kumquats, lemons, and limes, are among the most popular fruits because of their tangy flavor and potent nutrient lineup. Originating in Southeast Asia in 4,000 BC, citrus fruits, a part of the rue family, soon conquered the world, as they became cultivated and incorporated into the food culture in many countries. The American Southern tradition of lemonade, along with Scottish marmalades, and North Africa’s preserved lemons are a few examples of the way people have used their prized citrus. Living in Ojai, California, I am surrounded by citrus, and have 20 varieties of trees growing in my garden, from well known Valencia oranges to more unusual types, like Pink Lemonade Lemons, Pixie Tangerines, Cara Cara Oranges, and Oro Blanco Grapefruit. I use citrus in my kitchen every day, for flavor and health.

Power Up on Citrus Fruits for Health
Citrus growing in my small home orchard.

Powerful Citrus Nutrition

Citrus fruits are most famous for their high vitamin C content—just one large orange provides 163% DV (Percent Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories per day.) Vitamin C is important for many body functions, including maintaining bones, teeth, muscles, skin, ligaments and blood vessels; acting as an antioxidant to fight damaging free radicals that can lead to disease, healing wounds, and promoting a healthy immune function. In fact, 16th century seamen figured out that if they stocked their ships with citrus fruit, they could avoid scurvy—a condition marked by lethargy and spongy gums due to vitamin C deficiency—that occurred during long periods at sea.

But vitamin C isn’t the only nutrient you’ll garner from citrus; the fruits are rich in essential vitamins and minerals, like potassium, folate, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, as well as fibers like pectin and lignin, which are linked with heart protection. In addition, more than 170 different phytochemicals have been identified in citrus fruits, including monoterpenes, limonoids, lavonoids, and carotenoids, which have documented antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and anti-cancer effects.

Power Up on Citrus Fruits for Health
This recipe for Lemony Garden Peas with Pasta is packed with citrus.

Citrus Health Bonus

Eating citrus has been linked with protection from heart disease, stroke, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, multiple sclerosis, age-related eye disease, ulcerative colitis, and diabetes, according to a review of the science on citrus fruits and health performed by Australia’s research organization, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research. High citrus fruit intake also is linked with a 40 to 50 percent reduction in the risk of several cancers, such as esophageal, larynx, mouth, and stomach. The benefits of citrus fruit don’t stop there.  These zesty fruits contain high amounts of fiber, such as pectin and lignin as mentioned above, that support gut health. The fiber in citrus fruit serves as a prebiotic, a substance that is food for gut microorganisms, which can protect you against intestine conditions such as hemorrhoids, acid reflux, and diverticulitis. Also, citrus fruit is low in calories, but packed with nutrients, which makes this fruit a great choice if you are wanting your calories or are trying to lose weight. Lastly, citrus fruit has been shown to increases levels of citrate, a mineral that can deposit in the kidney and cause kidney stones, in the urine. Having more and more citrate acid being excreted in the urine over the long term can help you reduce your risk of developing kidney stones. It looks like you just got another (or multiple) reason to start your day out right with citrus.

Power Up on Citrus Fruits for Health

5 Tips on How to Boost Citrus Fruit Intake

With all of the amazing benefits citrus fruits have to offer you, why not try to include it in your diet at least a few times per week? Following my five tips for boosting your citrus fruit intake will definitely get you started on the right track.

Power Up on Citrus Fruits for Health
Herbal Lemon-Lime Mint Water

1. Make Citrus Infused Water. Drinking water can get a little boring, but getting enough water is so important, plus this is your preferred beverage for hydration. One way to spice up your water is by adding slices of citrus fruit to it, such as oranges, limes, and lemons. This simple addition adds flavor, visual pleasure, and health.

Power Up on Citrus Fruits for Health
Vegan Dark Chocolate Orange Waffles are the perfect breakfast for a lazy Sunday.

2. Add Citrus to Zest up Your Breakfast. Instead of feasting on a traditional Western-style, junk food, highly processed, added sugar filled breakfast, why not try to include more whole foods, like whole grains and citrus fruit for breakfast? Add citrus fruit to many traditional whole grain breakfast items, like granola, waffles, toast, oatmeal porridge, or pancakes to reap citrus’s benefits.

Sunshine Orange Whole Wheat Rolls not only serve you your daily citrus, but whole grains too.

3. Whip up a Citrus Filled Baked Treat. Adding some citrus juice or zest to a dessert is another great way to max out your citrus intake. Plus, citrus juice and zest gives baked items a delicious tangy taste. Try it in breads, muffins, pancakes, waffles, cookies, bars, cakes, and rolls.

Pea Tendril Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette is the perfect light accompaniment for your meal.

4. Drizzle Citrus Juice onto a Salad. Skip the bottled salad dressing and sauces on the market, which are filled with added sugar and refined ingredients, and make your own dressings at home with a splash of citrus juice as a healthy ingredient to top all of your salads, including veggie, leafy, grain, and pasta salads.

Pomegranate Mandarin Smoothie

5. Blend Citrus Fruit into a Smoothie. A smoothie is a great option if you are on the go and need an easy, nutrient-packed meal or snack. The beauty of a smoothie is that you can fill it with a variety of whole fruits and vegetables, even citrus fruit, such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. Citrus fruit will give your smoothie a nice zing and provide plenty of nutrients as a side benefit. Just toss a whole peeled fruit in your blender!

For more ideas on how to use citrus in your plant-powered cooking, check out some of my favorite citrus recipes:

Ginger Pink Lemonade
Pomegranate Mandarin Sauce
Fresh Orange Spice Granola
Fresh Orange Tofu with Brown Rice

Main image: Blood oranges, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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