Power Foods: Oranges

Whether you favor the sweet, seedless navels, the juiciest Valencias, the maroon-colored blood variety, or cara caras' pink flesh and berryish flavor, you can't go wrong with oranges. 

But don't just stop at pouring yourself a glass of the fruit's juice. A star among their citrus brethren, oranges add variety and complexity to a range of dishes -- not to mention a plateful of valuable perks.

Braised Leeks with Orange
Orange, Parsley, and Walnut Salad

Health Benefits 
There's a reason oranges and vitamin C have all but become synonymous. Just one serving of the fruit covers your daily requirement of the vitamin, which is essential for making collagen, the connective tissue for tendons, ligaments, and bones. 

Vitamin C also helps form hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen. More than just an ordinary vitamin, C acts as an antioxidant as well, meaning that it may also help fend off certain types of cancer, promote heart health, and battle inflammation.

Keeping the vitamin company is a range of phytonutrients. Among the best understood of these plant chemicals, carotenoid pigments are thought to act as a deterrent against certain cancers, heart disease, and macular degeneration. Navel oranges provide a carotenoid called beta-cryptoxanthin, which your body can convert to vitamin A. 

Lycopene, also found in tomatoes, helps turn the flesh of cara cara oranges pink. Blood oranges benefit from anthocyanin, which may aid in preventing strokes and urinary tract infections, fight inflammation, and reduce the risk of cancer.

Oranges also provide folate (essential for preventing certain birth defects) and some potassium, which may help decrease risk of stroke. When peeling an orange, leave on the white stringy parts that stick to the fruit; it harbors pectin, a soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol.

Don't toss the peel either: The zest offers limonoids, a bitter-tasting lipid that protects the orange from fungi and may lower cholesterol and fight cancers of the skin, breast, lung, stomach, colon, and mouth. Use it to enhance the flavor of everything from dressings to smoothies.

How To Buy 
Find oranges at their peak between December and midspring. Choose fruit that's heavy for its size (indicating juiciness), firm, and evenly shaped. Buy organic when you can, especially if using the zest. Even with the peel removed, oranges are among the top 25 types of produce that most frequently contain pesticide residues. 

For juicing, buy Valencia oranges, but keep in mind that you'll lose the three grams of fiber found in the whole fruit. Oranges keep best in your refrigerator's crisper drawer.

Preparation Tips 
Rub unpeeled oranges under running water and dry them with a paper towel before eating, since any bacteria on the rind can transfer to the flesh when slicing, peeling, or juicing. Once oranges are cut, eat them within two hours or put them in the refrigerator, where they will stay fresh up to two days.

Fun Fact
An orange tree can produce both flower blossoms and mature fruit at the same time, sometimes causing a ripe orange to turn slightly green. The chlorophyll produced to feed the blossoms can tinge nearby oranges green, while also making them sweeter. 

Nutritional Breakdown
Per 1 large orange, raw

Calories: 86 kcal
Fat: 0.22 g
Fiber: 4.4 g = 17.6 percent* of DRI**
Folate: 55 mcg = 13.8 percent of DRI
Potassium: 333 mg = 7 percent of DRI
Vitamin C: 97.9 mg = 131 percent of DRI

* Percentages are for women 31 to 50 who are not pregnant
** DRI, Dietary Reference Intakes, are based on National Academy of Sciences' Dietary Reference Intakes, 1997 to 2004

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