Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ten Things Everyone Needs to Know About the Health Benefits of Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice

Just about everyone knows the basics about the nutritional benefits of orange juice. Orange juice is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, thiamin (vitamin B1), and folic acid. It's a great way to get quick energy.

And while orange juice is acidic when you drink it, it alkalizes the urine to relieve some of the stress caused by eating too much protein and other "acidifying" factors in your diet. But the health benefits of orange juice are not limited to the basic nutrition facts. Orange juice has a number of surprising benefits, including these ten:



1. Freshly squeezed orange juice lowers blood pressure.

One of the basic orange juice nutrition facts is that orange juice is high in potassium. The well-publicized DASH study found that all kinds of fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, but the benefits of orange juice don't stop there.

A team of researchers at the Unité de Nutrition Humaine at Clermont Université in France found that orange juice supplies a plant chemical called hesperidin that reduces inflammation in the linings of blood vessels. Drinking a small glass (about 200 ml or a little less than a cup) of orange juice every day for 4 weeks lowers diastolic blood pressure (the second blood pressure number), especially in middle-aged, overweight men.

There is more hesperidin in freshly squeezed orange juice, especially if you press down hard as you hold the oranges in your citrus juicer, than in either factory-frozen or canned orange juice.

2. Freshly squeezed orange juice, like all fruit juice in its natural state, is naturally no sugar added orange juice.

Most North Americans and Europeans would never think of adding sugar to orange juice. In some Asian and South American countries, however, the most popular brands of orange juice are literally more sugar than juice. Sometimes there is no orange juice in the product at all! If you want to be sure you are drinking low-sugar orange juice, squeeze it yourself or watch it being squeezed.

What about the fructose in orange juice? High-fructose corn syrup has given fructose a bad name. The things to know about high-fructose corn syrup are that it is "high" in fructose but actually is a mixture of glucose and fructose.

In small amounts, up to about 200 calories a day (maybe two glasses of juice a day), fructose in fruit and fruit juices does not have the detrimental effects of high fructose corn syrup. The liver is able to store the fructose released from the juice without interfering with the storage of fats or the manufacture of glycogen as long as the total amount of fructose consumed is low, at natural levels. Drink freshly squeezed orange juice, but don't eat baked goods and cereals made with high-fructose corn syrup.

3. Drinking freshly squeezed orange juice with your morning coffee can keep you from getting "buzzed."

Caffeinated coffee is a stimulant. Freshly squeezed--but not frozen or canned--orange juice is a calmative. Squeezing the peel by hand releases a calmative chemical called linalool. This is the calmative agent in lavender.

Drinking coffee and orange juice at the same time takes the "edge off" drinking to much coffee and reduces jittery feelings, anxiety, and surges in blood pressure. Pulp in orange juice increases flavor. Pulp in freshly squeezed orange juice increases nutritional value, too.

When it comes to buying orange juice, pulp or no pulp is one of the major decisions to make for choosing among brands. The reason manufacturers add pulp to canned or bottled orange juice is to make the juice taste and feel more natural.

Pulp traps some of the flavor chemicals, holding monoterpenes, sequiterpenes, and acetaldehydes in the juice rather than allowing them to escape into that little layer of air at the top of the container. But if you drink fresh-squeezed orange juice, you don't have to worry about adding flavor to your OJ. It's already there. And you also get more hesperidin and linalool, too.

5. You can freeze freshly squeezed orange juice safely with a minimum loss of flavor if you follow certain precautions.

People who make their own orange juice typically have times when they simply have more oranges than they can use right away. Once you freeze orange juice, it is no longer "fresh," but it still can be tasty.

The key to preserving the taste of freshly squeezed orange juice is not to strain it before putting it in the freezer. The fibers in the juice hold flavor chemicals in place until it is thawed.

The molds and fungi that sometimes contaminate kitchens are killed by freezing fresh orange juice at 0 degrees F (about -20 degrees C) for at least one month. Always thaw frozen juices in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.

How long is fresh orange juice good? Off flavors are usually caused by the growth of microorganisms. It is best to drink orange juice within 48 hours of squeezing, storing it in a covered container in the refrigerator. If you can't drink all your juice before the third day, freeze any leftovers.

6. Certain varieties of oranges are better when you make fresh orange juice.

Hamlin oranges come early in the season. They are the oranges most likely to survive unusually cold winters, but they produce pale and relatively flavorless juice.

Navel oranges have no seeds, so there is less clean up after juicing. Their flavor, however, is usually considered inferior to Valencia oranges, the variety most often used for juicing. If the growing season has been usually warm (more specifically, if summer nights have been unusually warm), the Valencia's peel may be streaked with green but the juice will be the familiar bright orange most people prefer.

Red-fleshed oranges are harder to come by but they make a superior, healthy breakfast juice. The anthocyanins in that make the orange red help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure, but these helpful plant chemicals break down if the juice is stored. Juices from freshly squeezed red oranges and blood oranges contain the most anthocyanins.

7. If you drink freshly squeezed orange juice, you'll get more benefits from your vitamin C supplement. If you take vitamin C supplements, you will get more benefits from freshly squeezed orange juice.

Freshly squeezed orange juice is one of the best sources of vitamin C, but vitamin C works in concert with plant chemical cofactors such as the previously mentioned hesperidin, diosmin,and other antioxidants. For some of the most important applications of vitamin C, preventing scurvy, for example, the vitamin is only effective when the diet also provides flavonoid cofactors that are found in abundance in fresh orange juice. 

There are other good fruit drinks, of course, and there is no reason you should not enjoy them, too, as long as your total consumption of fruit and fruit juices is kept in moderation. But all the benefits of oranges are available from home-squeezed juice, with none of the additives or the chemicals that leach from plastic containers.

8. Freshly squeezed orange juice is free of chemical additives.

One of the secrets of the orange juice industry that recently has come out is that some manufacturers of "100% natural" orange juice take the oxygen--and flavor--out of juice so they can store it in large steel vats for up to 18 months. They put the flavor back into the juice with "flavor packs" of chemicals extracted from orange peel.

Although the flavor packs are "natural," why not drink orange juice that is "naturally natural" by squeezing your own?

9. Freshly squeezed orange juice has about 10% more vitamin C than traditionally heat-treated orange juice.

Storing orange juice on the grocer's shelf for weeks or even months requires pasteurization. About 10% of the vitamin C in juice is destroyed in the process. This vitamin C is preserved when you squeeze it yourself.]

10.  Freshly squeezed red orange juice reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke--in as little as seven days.

Researchers at the University of Palermo in Italy, reporting their findings in the May 2012 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that drinking 2 cups (about 500 ml) of red orange every day provided a variety of anti-inflammatory nutrients that are critical in reducing cardiovascular risk.

These red orange antioxidants lowered C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and interleukin-6. After just seven days of drinking red orange juice every day, volunteers in the study experienced normalized blood flow, arteries having the "stretch" they need to deal with stress.

One other thing will help you get maximum flavor at minimum expense when you squeeze your own orange juice. Be sure to use a citrus juicer, not a macerating juicer. Use the kind of juicer that extracts juice from oranges you slice and half and hold on the machine, not a macerating machine that grinds up the peels, too.

Photo credit: Rick Audet of San Francisco, California (via Wikimedia Commons).

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