Before the word “superfood” entered everyday language, there was the grapefruit. As far back as the 1930s, people turned to it for weight loss because of an enzyme that was said to melt away pounds. Though science has long debunked that the fruit has any magical properties (and doctors strongly oppose the grapefruit diet), there are many health benefits associated with it, says Hank Dart, a prevention and control expert at Siteman Cancer Center. “They can be one part of a healthy diet focused on sensible weight loss. They are tasty, low in calories and, because they have a good amount of fiber and water, can be pretty filling,” he says. Along with other citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, grapefruit are rich in potassium, vitamins A and C, and they have found to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. They might even play a role in lowering the risk of cancer.
Though drinking grapefruit juice is a convenient way to get some of the same nutrients found in the fruit, eating it whole is far preferable. “Fruit juice can be filled with as many calories and as much sugar as soda,” Dart says. “Whole grapefruit is the better choice overall because it is lower in calories than a glass of juice, plus it has more fiber. Fiber is not only filling, but it also helps slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, which has health benefits.”
Eating products that contain grapefruit can carry some risk. One of its compounds (known as furanocoumarins) can affect the way certain types of medications — such as drugs used to treat high blood pressure, unhealthy blood cholesterol and arrhythmias — are processed in the body. Dart suggests checking with your healthcare provider to see if grapefruit products are something you should limit or avoid.
When picking out which kind of grapefruit to eat, fresh is always the best option. Look for ones that are firm and heavy for their size. Most grocery stores carry them all year. In fact, winter months find grapefruits in their peak season; store them at room temperature to get the very best flavor. Dart says that canned options can also be good choices, but make sure the fruit is packed in water, not in juice or syrup.
Though most often thought of as a breakfast staple, grapefruit can and should stretch into the day’s later meals: It can mix in with low-fat plain yogurt for a snack; cut into wedges, it perks up salads; and as an appetizer, it finds a terrific partner in avocado, thanks to their contrasts in flavor and texture. And — because it’s the holidays, after all — grapefruit can even do double duty at parties when the juice is splashed with vodka to make a greyhound: a bright, classic cocktail for cold winter nights.
Though grapefruit’s tartness is its most identifiable quality, the trait is also the very thing that can make them somewhat unapproachable. Enter the oroblanco, developed at the University of California in the 1950s that’s a cross between a pomelo (a large citrus fruit first grown in Asia) and a white grapefruit. “Oroblanco” translates to “white gold,” and this fruit is just waiting for its star turn. Get ahead of the trend and seek out this yellow-green beauty in grocery stores and farmers’ markets. You’ll be rewarded with a fruit that is sweet and juicy but leaves all of the bitterness behind.
The family of red grapefruit encompasses many varieties, including Ruby Red, which is a favorite among juice producers. It’s true that part of this is simply marketing — Ruby Red has a nice ring to it, after all — but there are additional benefits lurking in that red hue. Like most fruits and vegetables, the deeper the color the better, and Ruby Red grapefruits are no exception. Its color is indicative of lycopene, a potent antioxidant that may improve heart health and help stave off cancer.
The Goldilocks of grapefruit, pink varieties land squarely between reds and whites in more than just color: Often the redder the fruit the sweeter the taste, so it follows that pinks are more mellow all the way around. Their color is a reminder that they contain lycopene, so they rack up more good-for-you points than white grapefruit. They also are among the very best ones for juicing.
When the pomelo was crossed with a sweet orange, the result was the common denominator for just about every kind of grapefruit available today. Its skin ranges from dark yellow to green, and its rosy insides have a sweet, mild taste. Pomelos can weigh up to four pounds each, rightfully earning their scientific name Citrus maxima. The rind and pith of these fruits are thick, so getting down to the flesh itself takes a bit of work and patience, but it’s worth it. Don’t toss the pleasantly fragrant skin: When candied, it makes for an excellent treat.
Looking at a white grapefruit, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a yellow-colored orange or a suspiciously round lemon. White grapefruits (also known as yellow grapefruits) are the least sweet of all grapefruits most commonly found on the market. Their flesh is a light yellow color, a clue that they aren’t as sweet as the pinks and reds, so they fit in well at any meal and are a definite crowd pleaser. White grapefruits are also top-notch sources of vitamins A and C.
In Good Taste is brought to you in partnership with Siteman Cancer Center. Watch for more healthy, seasonal cooking ideas each month.