Oranges and other citrus fruit are always plentiful right around Christmastime in Canada. Although we do see oranges, lemons, and grapefruit at other times of the year, they tend to be more expensive. The selection is also much smaller. But just when our weather is turning gloomy and grey, something magical happens. The grocery store explodes with several kinds of oranges, big bags of grapefruit, and crates of clementines. Citrus fruits ripen just before the Christmas season, which explains why the supply is so big this time of year.
As an item we’ve had to import, citrus fruits have traditionally been a luxury item. And because many oranges ripen right before Christmas, it seems only natural to think of them as a holiday treat. When you were little, did Santa leave a clementine in the toe of your stocking on Christmas Eve? I know he did that at our house, and he still does it for my kids today!
Oranges of all kinds are an integral part of the Christmas season for us. We bake with them and include them in our Christmas gifts. We also like to eat more citrus this time of year to help maintain a healthy immune system, so we’ll be stronger to fight off colds and flu.
What is One Serving Size for Oranges?
According to Canada’s Food Guide, a serving size for fruits and vegetables is 1/2 cup, or 125 ml. This is the equivalent of 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or fruit juice. For whole produce, the serving is generally one medium-sized fruit or vegetable – or whatever would fit in your hand.
Portion sizes in the UK are based on 80g of fresh fruit or a maximum of 150 ml fruit juice or smoothies per day. When eating whole oranges, a single serving is one medium-sized orange (for example, a Navel orange or Valencia orange) or two smaller oranges (clementines, satsumas, or other Mandarins.) Under the American MyPlate system, serving sizes are complicated. But the American Heart Association suggests a serving of one medium fruit, about the size of a baseball, or 1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit or fruit juice.
Dietary guidelines for portion sizes may differ where you live. But it seems that a good rule of thumb is that a single portion of oranges is one handful of whole fruit or 1/2 cup of cut fruit.
Do Some Oranges Have More Calories than Others?
I was really curious about whether some types of oranges have more calories than others, and whether some have differing amounts of carbs, fibre, and other nutrients. So I checked out the USDA’s National Nutrient Database. I looked at Navel, California, and Florida oranges, as well as clementines and tangerines. Here’s what I discovered.
For 100 g of fruit, all the different orange varieties I looked at have roughly the same number of calories: about 86-87 calories. So the total number of calories per 100 g of these oranges is pretty much the same. Looking at the total carbohydrate and fibre values, all the oranges had fairly close values as well. Carbs are all around 12-13 g per 100 g, with roughly 2 g of dietary fibre.
The larger oranges did tend to have slightly higher values around the 2.5 g, whereas the tangerines and clementines have just under 2 g of fibre. For a single portion here and there, that’s probably not a major difference for the average person. But for anyone who eats a lot of oranges, or for elite athletes or individuals whose diet is restricted for health reasons, that tiny difference could be significant enough to affect the choice of what type of oranges you might want to enjoy with a meal.
When it comes to vitamin and mineral content, there did seem to be more variation between different types of oranges. Again, this is probably not something most of us need to be concerned with. But if you are trying to maximize or restrict intake of a specific nutrient, you might be interested in comparing the nutritional profiles for your favourite orange varieties side by side.
Are Oranges a Healthy Snack?
So are oranges a healthy snack? Absolutely! A medium-sized orange supplies only 62 calories. That’s pretty low-cal, next to the 100- or 200-calorie snacks that advertisers are pushing today. That one orange supplies 116% of your daily vitamin C requirement, 12% of fibre, and more modest amounts of vitamins A and B6, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. If you are a smoker, your body has a greater need for anti-oxidants like vitamin C. So oranges are an especially good choice for a snack or a fruit to eat with your lunch.
What About Orange Juice?
You probably grew up seeing images of a “complete breakfast” that included cold cereal, toast, milk, and that ubiquitous glass of orange juice. Fruit juice, especially orange juice, was a household staple. We looked on it as a way of getting our daily allowance of vitamin C and relied on orange juice so much for that one nutrient that we could hardly think of any other food that contained it.
We might have named a few other citrus fruits if pressed for an answer. But when you were growing up, did anyone ever teach you that some brassicas like broccoli and Brussels sprouts have more vitamin C by weight than oranges do? If you eat a lot of kale, you might be surprised that by weight, kale contains twice the vitamin C of oranges. And I have to include this last one because in my house, we really love sweet bell peppers: sweet yellow peppers contain more than triple the vitamin C of oranges by weight!
I know all of this isn’t directly related to orange juice. But when you think about how advertisers sold us orange juice as a sure-fire way to get our vitamin C, it makes you wonder what other foods they were intentionally omitting. In light of the current health concerns related to drinking juices instead of eating whole foods, was that morning OJ more about buying into the advertising than about staying healthy?
Cutting Back on Fruit Juice
These days, many doctors and dietitians are recommending that we cut juices out of our diet. Although the formal nutritional guidelines in many cases still include both fruit and vegetable juices, there is often a warning that we should only replace a single serving of whole fruit or vegetables with juice or smoothies each day. Because these drinks remove a lot of the important fibre content, they don’t fill us up as much. And in many commercial fruit juices, there is as much sugar as in the same serving of soft drink.
I don’t know about you, but given that information, I decided to think of juice as a bit of a treat. It’s something that I used to indulge in daily – especially my beloved Ruby red grapefruit juice! But now I only buy it now and again. I try to eat the whole fruit regularly instead, and I find that I really do enjoy a whole clementine or Navel orange much more than a small glass of juice.
Christmas Citrus Fruit Binge?
Do you find that your family eats more oranges and other citrus fruits around the Christmas season? I know we always take advantage of the cases of clementines at this time of year. In our little town, we don’t have a lot of selection when it comes to oranges. So when the clementines come around we usually buy as many as we can. We also stock up on bags of Navel oranges, grapefruit and lemons around the holidays as well.
What’s your favourite way to serve oranges? Drop me a little word about it in the comments below!
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
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