You’ll Never Guess How Citrus Can Help Your Health

Those little clementines that are in season right now make an ideal snack—you can peel them without a knife and best of all, no seeds! Their cuteness belies their serious nutrition punch: They fight age-related disease and may even help you lose weight, too.

Famous for their vitamin C, clementines (a type of tangerine), along with other citrus fruits including oranges and grapefruit, also contain citrus flavonoids, which have been shown to:

  • Fight obesity. So far, the research has been done on animals, but if it’s even half as effective on humans, we’re in luck! For example, mice that were fed a typical American diet and were also given a flavonoid found in clementines and tangerines called nobiletin maintained their weight. Mice that weren’t given the flavonoid became obese and developed high cholesterol and high blood sugar, according to a study from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Nobiletin seemed to make the mice almost completely resistant to obesity, the study authors wrote. The flavonoid appears to raise metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories) and stimulate the body to burn fat for energy instead of storing it.
  • Combat cancer. Don’t throw away your clementine or tangerine peels—they contain a powerful cancer-fighter called tangeretin, shown to suppress cancer cell growth in a number of studies. Instead, grate the rind into fruit salads, pancakes, muffins, grain pilafs, salad dressings and sauces.
  • Reduce levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. In an Israeli study, people with high levels of these harmful fats in the blood lowered LDL by 20 percent and triglycerides by 17 percent by eating red grapefruit daily for a month. (While both red and white grapefruit are nutritious, the red type is higher in antioxidants.) It appears that the citrus flavonoid naringin gets some (or most) of the credit; people who supplemented with pure naringin for eight weeks lowered LDL by 17 percent in a South Korean study.  (Check with your doctor if you’re taking any prescription medication, as grapefruit can interact with some drugs.)
  • Raise HDL “good” cholesterol. Drinking three cups of orange juice daily for four weeks raised HDL by 21 percent, on average, for people in a study from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. However, that’s 330 calories of juice—not a good idea if you’re trying to lose weight. It’s best to eat the whole fruit because you get fuller—and stay that way longer—for fewer calories. While a whole orange a day might not be as effective as juice, in combination with other HDL-raisers, like exercise and subbing in olive oil for other oils, you very well might see a rise in this protective type of cholesterol.

For a different spin on clementines, try this recipe.

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About Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D., Best Life Lead Nutritionist

Janis can’t help but be immersed in nutrition, and not just because she is a registered dietitian or writes about the topic daily for It’s also because she simply loves food, and will try just about any dish you put in front of her. In addition to her work for The Best Life, Janis is a contributing editor at SELF magazine. She also wrote The Life You Want with Bob Greene and psychologist Ann Kearney-Cooke and The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes (Simon & Schuster 2009), along with Bob and endocrinologist and Best Life chief medical advisor John J. Merendino Jr., M.D. When she’s able to get away from the kitchen and her computer, she often walks around Washington, D.C., a wonderful walking city with lots of ethnic food stores, farmer’s markets and great restaurants. (Did we mention she loves food?)

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