Proclaimed as one of the “seven wonders of Barbados”, the grapefruit is a hybrid between a Jamaican sweet orange and an Indonesia pomelo. Legend tells of a 17th century English ship captain who brought seeds across the ocean to breed this tart beauty. Botanists spin a likelier tale of a naturally occurring hybrid. Whatever the grapefruit’s true origin, the fruit of this subtropical citrus tree is so named because grapefruits hang in clusters, similar in appearance to grapes on a vine.
The 1830s marked the grapefruit’s American debut in Florida, albeit without much fanfare. The citrus fruit did not explode in popularity until a mutant led to the development and patent of the Ruby Red in the 1940s. This sweet variant gained tremendous popularity and became widely recognized as the symbolic fruit of Texas where “inferior” white grapefruits were banned for several decades.
Usually about 6 inches in diameter, a grapefruit resembles an orange, with a much tarter taste. Grapefruits can be seeded or seedless (the seeded varieties are generally used for juice). There are three major types of grapefruit: white, pink, and red. The hues refer to the pulp of the fruit; the outside peel can range in color from peachy pink to deep orange. Grapefruits vary in flavor from highly acidic and bitter to sweet and tangy.
Today, grapefruits are grown domestically in Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas. Popular varieties grown include the Duncan, Foster, Marsh, Oroblanco, Paradise Navel, Redblush, Star Ruby, Rio Red, Ruby Sweet, Thompson, and Triumph.
When it comes to grapefruit and nutrition, follow Texas’ lead and pick up a superior red or pink fruit. Half of a large red or pink grapefruit contains just 53 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrates (8 of these grams are from sugar) and 2 grams of fiber. White grapefruit has a similar nutritional profile although with slightly fewer carbohydrates (10 grams).
These blush colored grapefruits are chalk full of vitamin A and vitamin C, supplying 1,415 IUs or 28% of the recommended daily values and 38.4 mg or 64% of the daily values, respectively. White grapefruit contains a comparable amount of vitamin C; however but almost no vitamin A.
If you must drink grapefruit juice, go for red. Like the raw fruit, red or pink juice contains significantly more vitamin A than white. Although both shades of juice contain more than double the carbohydrates and sugar of the raw fruit (around 23 grams carbs and 22 grams sugar) with none of the fiber, grapefruit juice is one of the smarter juice options for those counting their calories. A cup of juice contains about 96 calories.
While we are on the topic of calories, it is important to address the Grapefruit Diet. This infamous eating plan has maintained popularity for years, promising rapid weight loss without deprivation through the alleged magical ingredient in grapefruits that causes metabolism and fat burning to skyrocket. In reality, this diet causes temporary loss of water weight through extreme calorie restriction and is not substantiated by any scientific studies. It is important to realize that, although grapefruit is a nutritious, low calorie fruit, it is not a mysterious fat burner. Long term healthy weight loss is best achieved through a balanced diet and physical exercise.
The rich red and pink hues of these crimson fruits are due to the high carotenoid phytonutrient called lycopene. Among common dietary carotenoids, lycopene is one of the most potent, exhibiting the highest capacity to fight oxygen free radicals that damage cells and may have anti-tumor activity. Grapefruits are also high in naringenin, a flavonoid that induces enzymes that repair damaged DNA in cancer cells.
The antioxidants in grapefruit have been shown in several studies to positively influence cholesterol levels. Red grapefruits have been demonstrated to be especially effective in lowering triglyceride levels. Grapefruits also contain pectin, a soluble fiber that may slow the progression of atherosclerosis – the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
If you are taking any prescription medications, it is extremely important to consult your healthcare practitioner before consuming grapefruit raw or juiced. The fruit and the juice contain naringenin, a flavonoid that can hinder several forms of prescription medications by interfering with enzymes that metabolize the drugs, increasing their circulation. These interactions should not be taken lightly as the results can cause potentially dangerous health conditions.
Selection and Storage
Available throughout the year, grapefruits are best during winter to early spring.
When selecting grapefruit, look for a fruit that is heavy and solid with a smooth, shiny peel. Do not be deterred by scratches or skin discoloration – these small imperfections will not negatively impact the flavor of the flesh. Avoid fruits with soft patches, rough and wrinkled skin or a dull color; these traits most likely indicate a poor taste. After purchase, a grapefruit can be stored at room temperature for up to a week, or in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks.
Grapefruits are best eaten fresh. It is important to rinse the fruit in cool water before slicing. Even though the skin of the grapefruit is not eaten it is easy for dirt and bacteria to be transferred to the flesh when the grapefruit is cut.
Grapefruit can be enjoyed in a range of dishes and makes an especially flavorful salsa or chutney.
For a unique salsa, combine diced grapefruit with cilantro and chili peppers. To enjoy a salad with a tropical flair, combine chopped grapefruit pieces, cooked shrimp and avocadoes and serve on a bed of romaine lettuce. For a deliciously satisfying, more traditional salad, try a healthy Spinach and Grapefruit salad.
For several easy, healthy, grapefruit recipes (including a grapefruit Brule guaranteed to cure the winter blues) check out Eating Well.
This Valentine’s Day impress guest with a Pink Grapefruit and Lychee Cocktail.
In Costa Rica grapefruits are regarded as sweet treats. Cooked to remove their sourness and stuffed with dulche de leche, grapefruits are enjoyed as a dessert.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.