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Learn more about winter produce in our guide to fruits and vegetables.

Nutrition Smarts

The Wonders of Winter
By Christine Palumbo, RD

Bring a little sunshine into your home during the cold winter months by enjoying the bounty of produce that's available this season. Just when we need a flavor boost, winter fruits welcome us with their bright flavors. Some of these fruits grow in warm-weather states while others come from the Southern Hemisphere or Central America, where the sun shines while we shiver.

Celebrate Citrus

Although you can find them year-round, the juiciest, most fragrant citrus fruits are available now. Think about grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes, and tangerines, plus lesser known tangelos and kumquats.

Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C and potassium, and also contain limonene, a compound shown to have anticancer properties in laboratory animals. Recent research at the University of Arizona found that people who use citrus peel in cooking, baking or in their tea have less risk of skin squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer). Other research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who eat more grapefruit and oranges, and other fruits and vegetables high in potassium, have reduced risk of stroke. And the membranes between citrus segments provide pectin, a soluble dietary fiber that helps control blood cholesterol levels.

All citrus are high in flavonoids (the most common antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables, thought to reduce formation of substances that cause cancer and heart disease.) They also contain terpenes, phenols, and isothiocyanates—plant chemicals that help to prevent cancer.

Grapefruit, both white and red, are the largest of all the citrus fruits. And they're not just for breakfast anymore! Half a grapefruit provides half of the adult RDA of vitamin C; it also has 325 milligrams of potassium and 25 micrograms of folate. The pink and red varieties are high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts to vitamin A. They're also high in lycopene, an antioxidant that appears to lower the risk of prostate cancer. Grapefruit are especially high in pectin. Adding just a teaspoon of sugar should sweeten them enough for kids and those who find the fruit too sour.

Oranges are the most commonly eaten citrus fruit, and for good reason. They're sweet and juicy and everyone likes them! Valencia oranges are great for juicing, navel oranges are seedless and easy to peel, and temples (a cross between tangerines and oranges) are sweet and juicy, but full of seeds. One medium-size orange provides about 70 milligrams of vitamin C. Oranges also contain hesperidin and other bioflavonoids, plant pigments that may help prevent or retard tumor growth. They also contain beta-carotene, thiamine, folate and potassium.

Tangerines, also known as mandarin oranges, have thin, loose skins, and are less acidic and smaller than oranges. They're easy to peel and are traditionally part of both Christmas and Chinese New Year celebrations. Ounce for ounce, they contain half as much vitamin C as oranges, but one medium still contains half the RDA. Tangerines are richer in beta-carotene than other citrus fruits. Like other citrus, they're also high in pectin. The clementine variety is seedless, small and sweet. Honey tangerines have a greener skin, but sweeter flesh.

Lemons are rarely eaten alone due to their tartness, but are frequently used to season fish, vegetables, salads and tea. When added to vegetables that contain sulfur compounds, such as broccoli or cauliflower, the flavor of the vegetable improves. Lemon juice is an excellent source of vitamin C, with the juice of a medium lemon containing more than 30 milligrams. Lemon peel contains limonene, an oil that is an antioxidant.

Limes are usually used as a flavoring agent, like their lemon cousins. They also tenderize and heighten the flavors of other foods, especially fish and poultry. Four ounces of lime juice provides about 30 milligrams of vitamin C. They're also high in bioflavonoids and other antioxidants, which help protect against cancer and other diseases.

Tangelos are a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit. They look like an orange, are tangier than a tangerine, and sweeter than a grapefruit. One variety is the Minneola, with its distinctive stem-end neck. Like other citrus, they provide vitamin C, potassium and soluble fiber.

Kumquats are the only members of the citrus fruit family that can be eaten whole—peel, seeds and all. They resemble a miniature orange, only 1-1/2 inches long. Interestingly, the peel is sweet, while the juicy pulp is slightly tart. They contribute vitamin C, potassium and beta-carotene.

Other Winter Fruit

Pomegranates are deep red fruits with a thick leathery skin. When split open, an abundance of ruby red, seeded pulp is revealed. Pomegranates are traditionally popular in the Middle East, where the fruity, sweet-sour juice is used in stews, sauces, marinades, glazes, salads and drinks. Their color comes from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that may inhibit blood clot formation. They're especially high in potassium. Use the seeds to add sparkle and crunch to salads or use them as a pretty garnish. You can also eat them out of hand—carefully—so you don't stain your clothing or the counter!

Kiwis are grown in New Zealand, as well as California, and were once known as the Chinese gooseberry. After New Zealand fruit growers renamed it for their national bird, sales took off. They're very high in vitamin C, with a medium fruit containing 70 milligrams. They're also rich in potassium and pectin. Kiwis contain an enzyme, actinidin, which is a natural meat tenderizer.

Star fruit, also known as the star apple or carambola, is a bright yellow subtropical fruit. It gets its name from the deeply ribbed exterior, which forms a five-pointed star when the fruit is cut crosswise. Its juicy flesh tastes somewhat like a pineapple, plum and lemon combined. You can eat star fruit with the peel and all. One medium fruit has 30 calories, plus fiber, vitamin C and flavonoids.

Perk up your winter palate with these mouth-watering dishes:

Chocolate Angel Cake with Oranges and Chocolate Sauce
Citrus Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
Nancy Russman, Dare to Care, Louisville, KY
Herbed Lemony Swiss Chard
Minty Lime Cooler
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, Border Grill, Santa Monica, CA
Watercress and Endive Salad with Winter Fruits
Avocado, Kumquat and Grapefruit Salad with Bibb Lettuce and Watercress
Pomegranate Dressing

The following chart lists valuable nutrients found in winter fruits.

   Carotenoids  Flavonoids  Isothio-
 Phenols  Vitamin C  Other
Grapefruit, white  
Grapefruit, red
Star fruit  

(Adapted from "Overview of the health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption for the dietetics professional: Selected Literature." Journal of the American Dietetics Association, December 2000)


About Christine Palumbo, RD

Christine Palumbo, MBA, RD has been a nutrition communications consultant since 1989, providing dietary counsel and analysis on various nutrition, health and weight management topics to corporate clients and news media outlets nationwide. An active member of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the Illinois Dietetic Association and the Chicago Dietetic Association for more than twenty years, she has served on a variety of boards and practice group committees within those organizations.

Palumbo has been featured in national women's, health and business magazines, daily newspapers and local and national radio and television programs. She also received the Illinois Dietetic Association's Outstanding Dietitian of the Year award for 2002.


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