Though most of us may think of citrus fruits as summertime favorites, this family of fruits is actually ripe to be enjoyed right now. The full citrus season typically runs from Autumn all the way through June. Of course with modern technology and transportation we have access to pretty much any fruit we want all year long. It is thought that the first citrus was brought to the North America in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. By the mid-1500s the first orange tree was planted around St. Augustine, Florida. By the 1800’s the Florida citrus industry was flourishing and continues to do so, including not only oranges, but grapefruit, tangerines, and tangelos. Citrus trees tend to favor that semitropical environment making Florida, Texas, and California the top producing citrus states in North America.
We have access to at least half a dozen or more varieties of oranges in our grocery stores. They can be sweet and/or sour, but most often we see the sweet types in the market. Most popular to eat are probably Navel oranges, since they are seedless, sweet, and easy to peel. One medium orange provides about 3 ½ grams of fiber, 80 milligrams of vitamin C (89% RDA), and 12% of the RDA for folate and 10% RDA for thiamin (vitamin B1). The most widely grown variety of orange is the Valencia variety. They can be eaten whole (just a little harder to peel than Navel) and are the best oranges for juicing. Orange juice typically retains about 90% of its vitamin C content, but it is best consumed right away. That number drops to 66 percent after 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Tangerines and mandarins are also popular this time of year. Mandarins are wonderfully sweet and their loose skin makes them easy to peel. Clementines are seedless and make a great addition to kids lunches since they are small and so easy to peel. They also have a good nutritional content, but due to their size, they don’t have quite as high amounts of the same vitamins compared to oranges. We call them “cuties” at our house.
Grapefruits are thought to be a mutation of the pomelo fruit. Grapefruit comes in several varieties and colors with the fleshy inside ranging from white to yellow and pink to red. The darker the flesh, the higher the nutritional content tends to be. Grapefruit is another great source of fiber and vitamin C. They are best (juiciest) eaten at room temperature – but they will keep longer in the refrigerator for about 6 to 8 weeks (keep in the crisper). Grapefruit juice is noted for its inhibitory effect on an enzyme that helps to metabolize certain drugs and medications. This “grapefruit effect” as it has come to be known can result in an increased concentration of certain medications in the bloodstream. Such drugs that are known to be affected include cholesterol lowering “statin” drugs, some antiviral drugs used for HIV infection, certain hormonal medications including estrogen, certain high blood pressure medications and immunosuppressant meds. Talk to your doctor if you are taking any medications to see if drinking grapefruit juice may interfere with your dose.
Lemons and limes may have also arrived to North America with Columbus. Both contain significant amounts of vitamin C, but what makes them a bit more nutritionally powerful are their phytochemicals, called limonene phytochemicals, which may have anticancer benefits. These phytochemicals are actually found in the peels of lemons and limes, so don’t hesitate to wash those peels well, then use a “lemon zester” to add zest to soups, salads and salad dressings and sauces.
Tangors and tangelos are like cross breeds of oranges, mandarins, tangerines, and grapefruits or pomelos. Now is the time to also find blood oranges in the markets. Blood oranges make an especially tasty addition to salads and fresh squeezed juices. Kids love the name, too!
Don’t be surprised when your relatives from Florida send you a box of citrus fruit every holiday season. They are at their peak right now so just enjoy and if you don’t already have one, buy an inexpensive citrus juicer to enjoy all the many ways you can eat or drink these citrus gems.
About: Dr. James Rouse is a naturopathic doctor and expert in functional and lifestyle medicine. An author of nine books, host and founder of Optimum Wellness Media, and Ironman triathlete, James has coached Fortune 50 and 500 companies, MLB and NFL teams, several branches of US Government and consults for companies including BackJoy, SKOOP and Kroger Grocery. He has shared his message to audiences in the US, Europe and Asia.