Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oranges - A Look At The Different Varieties And Their Health Benefits

Oranges, those deliciously juicy and citrusy-sweet fruits which are synonymous with Vitamin C for the body, contain much more than just that! Oranges not only add an enigmatic aroma to our foods, they also do tonnes of good to our mind and body. But back in India, anything round and orange in color was an "Orange" to me, be it small, medium or jumbo in size; but a few years in the US taught me that there are several varieties of oranges that you get all year round, and each of them has something unique to offer. If you thought till now that they are simply a great source of antioxidants, think again! Ranked as the "Numero Uno" in the family of nutrition-rich fruits like apples, bananas, grapes and pears, oranges are among the healthiest items in the produce section that provide valuable health benefits.

Juicy and sweet and renowned for its concentration of vitamin C, oranges make the perfect snack and add a special tang to many recipes. Here are some typical varieties of oranges that you come across in the market:

Blood Oranges
Small and round, they have a blushing orange-red skin with a reddish orange meat. They have an intense orange flavor, few seeds, and are in season December through July.

Small and juicy, mandarins are mild in flavor and typically sweet. They have a smooth, light orange skin, and are available October through March.

Navel oranges
A little larger and shaped from round to oval, these oranges have a darker-colored skin; they are very juicy, sweet and seedless. You'll find them in season November through June

Most of us know these types; they are small with a textured, pumpkin-orange skin. Generally sweet, and with many seeds, they are available November through March

And now a look at some of the important health benefits that have been attributed to Oranges. This data has mainly been compiled from here and here. Oranges contain only 80 fat-free calories and loads of energizing carbohydrates that fuel energy levels.

Healing Properties
In recent research studies, the healing properties of oranges have been associated with a wide variety of phytonutrient compounds. These phytonutrients include several citrus flavanones, but the one that stands out the most is the herperidin molecule; Herperidin has been shown to lower high blood pressure as well as cholesterol in animal studies, and to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. But it should be known that most of this phytonutrient is found in the peel and inner white pulp of the orange, rather than in its liquid orange center, so drinking orange juice may not provide you with this beneficial compound.

Increasing Immunity (Vitamin-C)
We already know that oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C; a single orange supplies 116.2% of the daily value for vitamin C, which is the primary water-soluble antioxidant in the body, disarming free radicals and preventing damage to the body cells. A good intake of vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer, inflammation, osteoarthritis, infections, common cold and asthma.

Lower Bad Cholesterol
A study by U.S. and Canadian researchers that was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry stated that a class of compounds found in citrus fruit peels called polymethoxylated flavones (PMFs), as well as water-soluble fiber called pectin have the potential to lower cholesterol more effectively than some prescription drugs, and without side effects. By reducing the free radicals in the body, Oranges prevent prevent the oxidation and build-up of bad cholesterol.

Preventing Cancers and Cardiovascular Diseases
A diet rich in citrus fruits offers protection against cardiovascular disease due to compounds like folate, which is necessary for lowering levels of the cardiovascular risk factor(haemocysteine); potassium, which helps lower blood pressure, protecting against stroke and cardiac arrhythmias; and Vitamin C, carotenoids and flavonoids found in citrus fruits, all of which have been identified as having protective cardiovascular effects. The polyphenols found in oranges have been shown to have a wide range of antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative and anti-carcinogenic effects; they prevent stomach ulcers and even kidney-stones.

Selecting and Storing Oranges
Organic or not, oranges don't have to be a bright orange color to be good. Avoid those that have soft spots or traces of mold. And because oranges are among the top 20 foods in which pesticide residues are most frequently found, buy organic oranges whenever possible. Go for those that have smoothly textured skin and are firm and heavy for their size. These will have a higher juice content than those that are either spongy or lighter in weight. In general, the smaller the oranges, the juicier they will be.

Oranges can either be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for about two weeks without losing their vitamin content. Do not cover them as any exposure to moisture can make them rancid and stale. Fresh orange juice can be stored in ice cube trays until frozen, and then in plastic bags in the freezer. Dried orange zest should be stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight glass container.

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