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Top 5 Foods With Surprising Qualities: Oranges

Updated on January 30, 2010

Until the beginning of the 20th century, oranges were too rare and expensive to be enjoyed every day. In fact, they were usually reserved only for the most special occasions. With the arrival of advancements in agriculture production and transportation, the supply of oranges rose. And today, oranges are one of the most commonly enjoyed and popular fruits.

There is a tremendous variety of oranges available in most supermarkets today, especially during the high season. Grab a clementine if you're in the mood for a sweet, tangy, succulent and seedless snack. If you're looking for an interesting addition to your salad, slice a blood orange for a dramatic effect. Packed with vitamin C along with a healthy dose of fiber and folate, oranges remain one of the most nutritious fruits.

Nutritional Perks

There's hardly a better way to get so much nutrition in such a neat package. While the tough skin of the orange makes it the ideal take-along snack, the fact that oranges are rich in natural sugars mean they can be eaten anytime for a quick energy boost. But oranges offer more than convenience and quick energy. They contain a number of nutrients including vitamin C, flavonoids, fiber and folate.

Vitamin C
You're probably aware that oranges are packed with vitamin C. But did you know that eating just one orange provides you with all the vitamin C you'll need for the day? Vitamin C is recognized as an effective antioxidant, which blocks the cell damage caused by free radicals. If left unchecked, free radicals can cause problems, including heart disease and cancer. Oranges also contain a host of flavonoids that show promise in stopping cancer before it starts.

Fiber
A single orange contains about 3 grams of fiber: that's about 12 percent of the Daily Value. The insoluble fiber in oranges can help relieve a number of intestinal problems, from constipation and hemorrhoids to diverticulosis, a colon disorder. By binding and adding bulk to the stool, insoluble fiber helps speed digestion. Although there have been conflicting reports, this action may also help reduce the risk of colon cancer.

The soluble fiber in oranges, including a type called pectin, breaks down to form a gellike barrier in the small intestine. It's been shown in scientific studies that soluble fiber and pectin can help lower cholesterol and control blood sugar in diabetics.

Folate
Oranges are a source of folate, a nutrient that is especially important to women of childbearing age for the prevention of birth defects. Folate has also been shown to effectively reduce levels of homocysteine, a substance in the blood that may promote clotting and dramatically increase the risk of heart disease. Low folate blood levels have also been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Selecting Oranges

The perfect orange should be shiny and heavy for its size. It should smell good and the rind should feel firm. For oranges other than those from the mandarin family (mandarin family includes: tangelos, clementines, tangerines and mineolas), the surface should never feel spongy, like there's space between the peel and the flesh. This usually indicates that the orange is past its peak of freshness. Avoid oranges that are shriveled, have white patches or smell fermented.

The absolute best time to purchase any orange is during the midpoint of its growing season. See the individual varieties on the following pages for more on seasonality.

Storage and Handling

If you're going to eat your oranges quickly, it's fine to keep them at room temperature for 3 to 4 days. Otherwise, place the oranges in a plastic bag and put them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. They will keep nicely for 1 to 2 weeks.

Preparation Pointers

Mandarin varieties (tangelos, clementines, tangerines, mineolas) are easy to peel, since you can easily slip your finger into the top of the orange and pull back. Other types of oranges may be a bit more challenging. For those, simply cut a slice of the rind off of the top of the orange. Then cut slices of the peel lengthwise from top to bottom, or cut from top to bottom in a spiral.

To maximize vitamin C and fiber intake, keep intact as much of the white membrane that's located just under the rind. If you plan to make juice, be aware that oranges yield the most juice when they are at room temperature.

Continued In Top 5 Foods With Surprising Qualities: Oranges Part II

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