Citrus, with a capital C

Eating Well

January 20, 1998|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Winter is citrus season, so now's the time to indulge in juicy oranges, grapefruits, tangelos and tangerines. Grocery store bins are overflowing, too, with temples, blood oranges and tiny seedless clementines. Choose your favorites, and go for variety. Have something different every day.

Citrus fruits are bursting with vitamin C, of course. But despite all the hype, vitamin C has never been shown to prevent or cure the common cold, although it may help shorten it by about two hours! Vitamin C does have some other amazing powers, though.

At the recommended level of 60 mg/day, vitamin C serves as the glue that joins your cells together. It forms the matrix that holds calcium in your bones and teeth, and makes your arteries flexible so they expand and contract as blood pulses through. It forms scar tissue, so you heal after you cut yourself shaving. And it helps you cope with a fever and the stresses of modern life. One medium-sized orange provides about 70 mg of vitamin C. What could be easier or more delicious!

If you're short on vitamin C for a long period of time, you might experience bleeding gums or broken capillaries under your skin and plaque build-up in your arteries, which can increase heart disease risks. If you smoke, you'll need more vitamin C than average, about 100 mg/day.

And on the plus side, several large-scale studies show people who get the most vitamin C from food have lower rates of cancer, especially of the mouth, larynx, stomach and esophagus.

"Getting it from food" seems to be the message of the day from hundreds of studies that look at illness versus what you eat. That's because fruits and vegetables, including citrus, take you beyond vitamin C, offering other vitamins, minerals and newly discovered food elements that help your body fight disease.

Just one cup of fresh orange juice, for instance, provides about 20 percent of the B vitamin folic acid, critical for women of child-bearing age, because it reduces risks for birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. Tantalizing research also suggests that folic acid's ability to lower blood homocysteine may reduce risks for a type of heart attack unrelated to cholesterol.

Citrus fruit can help control cholesterol, too, because it offers soluble fiber, like the kind in oat bran.

Ruby red grapefruit's richer color is an important clue that it supplies lycopene, the red member of the carotene family that appears to be important in preventing prostate and cervical cancer. Although we get most of our lycopene from tomatoes, getting an extra dollop from grapefruit juice won't hurt.

Feeling lazy? Open a jar or can of juice-packed grapefruit or mandarin oranges and pile them on your winter salad. Want to boost your bones? Choose calcium-fortified o.j. for a well-absorbed jolt that's equal to milk. Squeeze lemon on your fish and lime on your salad. Use grapefruit, orange, lemon or tangerine juice in place of vinegar in marinades. Every little bit helps.

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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