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The future’s orange

AGENT ORANGE: Full of Vitamin C

CITRUS FRUITS have long been considered an essential part of a balanced nutritional programme by supplying essential vitamins such as vitamin C, fibre, riboflavin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and a variety of phytochemicals.

In addition, citrus contains no fat, sodium or cholesterol. Characterised by skin, shape and interior pulp, the citrus group incorporates a wide variety of fruits such as lemons, oranges, mandarins, grapefruits, tangelos, pummelo, kumquats, limes, citrons, lavender gem, oro blanco, shaddock, tangerine and ugli fruit.

Although oranges are the major fruit in the citrus fruits group, accounting for about 70 percent of citrus output, the group also includes small citrus fruits (such as tangerines, mandarines, clementines and satsumas), lemons and limes and grapefruits.

The leading processed form in the group is orange juice.The main energy-yielding nutrient in citrus is carbohydrate; citrus contains the simple carbohydrates (sugars) fructose, glucose and sucrose, as well as citric acid which can also provide a small amount of energy. Citrus fruits also contain non-starch polysaccharides (NSP), commonly known as dietary fibre, which is a complex carbohydrate with important health benefits.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), an essential water-soluble vitamin, plays a key role in the formation of collagen, a primary component of much of the connective tissue in the body. Adequate collagen synthesis is essential for strong ligaments, tendons, dentin, skin, blood vessels and bones, and for wound healing and tissue repair. The weakening of these tissues is a symptom of vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C is an important aid in the absorption of inorganic iron; it has also been shown to aid in the treatment of anaemia and stress.

Contrary to popular belief, vitamin C does not seem to prevent the onset of the common cold, but in some studies it has been reported to reduce the length and severity of the symptoms. Deficiencies in vitamin C can lead to scurvy, also known as gum-bleeding disease. The symptoms include dark, purplish spots on skin, especially the legs; spongy gums, often leading to tooth loss; bleeding from all mucous membranes; pallor; bleeding gums; sunken eyes; opening of healed scars; separation of knitted bone fractures; nosebleeds; non-stop diarrhoea and nail loss.

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin essential for new cell production and growth. It helps in the production of DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA) and mature red blood cells, which ultimately prevent anaemia. Potassium is an essential mineral that works to maintain the body's water and acid balance. As an important electrolyte, it plays a role in transmitting nerve impulses to muscles, in muscle contraction and in the maintenance of normal blood pressure. The B vitamins are eight water-soluble vitamins, including riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, niacin and thiamin that play important roles in cell metabolism.

Calcium is an important component of a healthy diet. Calcium is essential for the normal growth and maintenance of bones and teeth, and calcium requirements must be met throughout life. Long-term calcium deficiency can lead to rickets and poor blood clotting. And in case of a menopausal woman, it can lead to osteoporosis, in which the bone deteriorates and there is an increased risk of fractures.

Citrus foods have also been credited and studied in reducing cancer development, neurology, anaemia and cataracts. While it is yet to be determined the full value of citrus fruits, especially in the field of phytochemicals it should never be discounted for its value, and every effort should be made to see to it that it is available for consumption.

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