by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
Tangy, sweet, sour, juicy, refreshing, succulent, tantalizing, delicious—these are the many adjectives I think of when I eat one of my favorite fruits of the winter season— grapefruit. My mother would order a case of them so our family would go through periods of eating grapefruit halves daily and making freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. My mother, being a gourmet cook, also prepared them in other creative ways. My grandmother made candied grapefruit peel for the holidays, a special treat that I have not eaten for quite some time, but I remember how it made my lips pucker.
Grapefruit is native to this continent, specifically Barbados in the 18th century, hard to believe since it seems that so many fruits did not originate on this side of the world. It has been reported that grapefruit was a cross between the sweet orange and the Indonesian pomelo tree. Grapefruit was referred to as the “forbidden fruit” in Barbados, one of the seven wonders of that island according to a natural history book. It came to Florida in the early 1800s, which still remains one of the main states for grapefruit production along with Texas, Arizona, and California. Grapefruit’s original name in the U.S. was shaddock, supposedly named for Captain Shaddock who brought the seed to the Caribbean. Its current name came later on, when it was thought that grapefruit looked like clusters of grapes up in the tree.
Grapefruits come in three colors, white or blonde, pink, and the rich color known as ruby. I am referring to the flesh not the skin since the skin remains the same color in all three. Grapefruits have a lot to say for themselves nutritionally. They are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, and potassium. They have a low glycemic index and this fact could support the theory that they help to metabolize or burn fat.
The ruby variety, which was developed as a hybrid in the early 1900s, has significantly more vitamin A and more concentrated amounts of certain flavonoids. Lycopene is a flavonoid that produces the deep pink color and is responsible for anti-tumor activity. Lycopene is a key factor in reducing the number of free radicals that can be damaging to all cells in the body.
Grapefruit and other citrus fruits have significant amounts of limonoids, potent anticarcinogens that research has shown to have long-lasting bioavailability (6-24 hours) compared to other plant compounds such as those found in green tea and chocolate (4-6 hours). Limonoids are persistent flavonoids! They promote production of compounds that help to rid toxins from the body. Grapefruit’s other plant-compound flavonoid, naringenin, has been shown to repair damaged DNA in the prostate, where the most commonly form of cancer in males occurs. Research shows that eating grapefruit regularly can possibly prevent cancer from becoming full blown since it can repair damaged cells early.
Grapefruit have cholesterol-lowering abilities due to their pectin (type of fiber) content. All grapefruit, no matter the color of the flesh, can decrease the bad form of cholesterol (the LDL) but ruby varieties have been shown to have twice the power of lowering bad cholesterol compared to blonde varieties. Studies have also shown that ruby grapefruit are twice as effective in lowering triglyceride levels. One important thing to remember about grapefruit is that they contain certain compounds that interfere or affect the use of several medications so be sure to check with your physician or pharmacist about this.
Buy grapefruit that are firm, and if you have never had a ruby-fleshed one, by all means now is the time to try it. Wash them well before slicing into them to prevent dirt or bacterial contamination going into the flesh. I enjoy them as they are, whole or cut in half. Try this salad below to expand your repertoire with grapefruit or mix grapefruit and avocado together with a vinaigrette dressing since avocadoes are in season now too — a scrumptious and delicious combination.