I get these "aha" moments at the weirdest times. During my afternoon tea break at work, I decided to add a small packet of lemon juice to my iced tea.
"That’s pretty good!" I realized. Why don’t I do this more often?
I then admitted to myself that — besides the lemon I squeeze in water at restaurants — my current intake of fruit, especially citrus fruit, has been lacking. So I’ve missed out on a lot of nutrients and their resulting health benefits.
Nutritionally, citrus fruit — oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins, tangelos and grapefruit — are one of nature’s best sources of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants protect our cells from the damage caused by … living. Vitamin C also boosts our immune system to fight off germs and viruses.
When you think of C, think collagen — a protein produced with the help of vitamin C that helps strengthens sagging skin (I need that). Vitamin C is also vital in the process of knitting skin back together and healing wounds.
If you’re at least 19 years old, you need 75 milligrams of vitamin C a day if you are female; males need 90 milligrams. One cup of yummy orange slices provides 98 milligrams of vitamin C. Score!
Citrus fruits are also excellent forms of dietary fiber (something we don’t get in vitamin supplements). Fiber feeds the good bacteria in our guts that helps keep us well and can even keep a raging appetite in check.
Citrus fruits also supply folate, the natural form of folic acid, a B vitamin. This nutrient is particularly important during pregnancy since it is needed for normal growth of brains and spinal cords.
OK, OK, I get the message. That squeeze of lemon into my water or tea doesn’t add a lot of vitamin C to my day. But every little bit counts, right?
I’m also going to put lemons on my shopping list. Growers say they are always in season because most varieties grow year-round.
And I’ll try this “s’alternative” recommended by the Sunkist folks (www.sunkist.com) to lessen the salt load in some of my recipes. Let’s say a vegetable dish calls for 1 teaspoon of salt. Instead, I’ll use just 1/4 teaspoon of salt and add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, grated from the outside of the lemon. Then at the end of cooking, I’ll add 2 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice to my recipe. Research shows this process can reduce sodium by 75% as well as boost the flavor and color of my veggies. It also works for grains, fish, meat, soups and dressings. Find the chart at www.sunkist.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Sunkist-Salternative.pdf.
What I really need to do is swap some of my less nutritious snacks for a juicy orange. In fact, I think I’ll go peel one of those mandarin oranges sitting in my fridge right now.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian. Email her at email@example.com.