Many fruits have fantastic health benefits, but oranges have always been a standout, and for good reason.

Oranges contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. For starters, they have somewhere between 90-130 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C we need, depending on the size and variety of orange. Vitamin C is the primary water-soluble antioxidant in our bodies, protecting cells by neutralizing free radicals that can lead to inflammation, heart disease and cancer. Citrus is a major tool for warding off esophageal, mouth, larynx, pharynx and stomach and colon cancers. Vitamin C is also part of a healthy immune system, which is why it is recommended for fighting off colds. Getting your vitamin C from oranges is the most effective way to help your body. A recent study compared orange juice, fortified water, and sugar water all containing 150 milligrams of vitamin C. Only vitamin C from orange juice provided protection against damage to DNA from free radicals.

Beyond vitamin C, an orange provides about 12 percent of our daily fiber needs and about 6-7 percent of our daily potassium needs. Both of these benefit our hearts. Potassium helps prevent an irregular heartbeat, as well as reduces the risk of stroke, kidney stones and a loss of bone density. Meanwhile, fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels, lowers bad cholesterol and keeps the digestive system regular. Oranges are also high in vitamin A, which can help prevent macular degeneration and can help improve night vision.

Oranges have over 170 different phytonutrients and more than 60 flavenoids, so we could go on and on about the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-tumor benefits of this fantastic fruit! But there’s a part of the orange you may not even realize is the healthiest for you: the pith, that spongy white tissue that lies beneath the peel and above the juicy flesh. According to Jo Robinson, author of “Eating on the Wild Side”, “Consuming the albedo [pith] is good for your health. According to one study, a navel orange with some albedo left on the segments has four hundred milligrams of phytonutrients per serving. When all the white tissue is removed, it has only one hundred milligrams. The next time you peel an orange, leave as much of the albedo as you can without compromising your enjoyment of the fruit.”

Selecting and storing oranges
Orange varieties that have the most phytonutrients, according to Robinson, are Cara Cara, blood oranges, Valencia oranges, tangeloes, and Mandarin oranges. Look for these in the store and try them out if they’re available.

You don’t have to get the orange-est of oranges in order to get the sweetest. In fact, if all the oranges in pile are uniformly colored, they’ve probably had Citrus Red Number 2, an artificial dye, injected into their skins to make them look more appealing. Having color variations, from green to pale yellow to deep orange are just fine and those with lighter coloration can be just as sweet as those with darker colors.

Go for oranges that are firm and heavy for their size, as this indicates they’re the juiciest. Another trick for selecting the juiciest oranges is to go for smaller oranges with thinner skins compared to their peers. Avoid any with soft spots or any sign of mold, as these are overripe. Also, go organic, especially if using orange zest since the outer skin will have absorbed some of the pesticides. Oranges are among the top 20 foods that contain pesticide residues so minimize your exposure by going organic.  

Oranges last about two weeks after buying them, whether stored on the counter top or in the refrigerator. They can get moldy easily if around moisture so keep them in an open basket, and not in a plastic bag.

orange cranberry pecan muffins

Orange-Cranberry Muffins with Pecans

Oranges, cranberries and pecans all wrapped up into one delightful muffin -- it's about the most heavenly thing you could want for a special breakfast or even for a dessert. Sweet without being overly sweet, and with the brightness of citrus, these wonderful little muffins are vegan and can also be made gluten-free by using a cup-for-cup style multi-blend flour. Another bonus is that they can be whipped up in hardly any time at all, so you can bite into a freshly baked muffin within about 35 minutes from the time the thought of enjoying one even enters your head (provided you already have all the ingredients in the kitchen, that is).

Date-Orange Breakfast Spread Recipe

Only five ingredients are needed for this delicious breakfast spread: dates, oranges, salt, cinnamon and low-fat cream cheese. It whips up into a perfect addition for bagels, English muffins, toast, or even with fruit such as apple slices. It's a great recipe to make on a Sunday morning and have ready to go in the refrigerator for quick breakfasts all week long.

Orange Chia Seed Breakfast Pudding

For a hearty version of a parfait, pair this pudding with some granola or diced fruit. You just need chia seeds, dates, almonds, oranges and water are needed to create this highly healthful breakfast dish, which will give you a flavorful boost of energy in the morning. You can make the recipe even more simple and speedy by using unsweetened, original flavor almond milk instead of making your own with almonds and water.

Quinoa, Orange, Beet, and Arugula Salad with Orange Balsamic Dressing

Moving from breakfast on to lunch, oranges are at their best when in a salad. Either in a starring role or a supporting actor, oranges add so much to a healthy bowl of greens, grains, and veggies. For this salad, oranges are mixed with more superfoods -- quinoa, beets, walnuts and arugula -- for a lunch loaded with nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, good-for-you fats and long-lasting energy. It would be hard to design a more delightful, well-balanced and nutrient-dense salad.

Fennel Bulb and Orange Salad

Fennel and orange seem to be one of those matches made in heaven. The crunch of the fennel bulb with the juicy, sweet orange slices, and the little bit of bite from Dijon mustard in the dressing make for a salad that is a party for your taste buds. It takes no more than about 15 minutes to throw this salad together, so it's perfect for busy days when you need to make a quick but healthy meal. Tossing in some slivered almonds or other favorite nuts, along with some chia, flax or hemp seeds, would add in a little bit of healthy fats and protein that'll keep you feeling full longer.

Orange and Avocado Salad

A super healthy citrus paired with another delicious superfood, the avocado? Yes, please!! Sweet, savory and crunchy all combine for a delicious, satisfying salad. Orange and avocado are matched up with grapes, walnuts, greens and a zippy mustard vinaigrette, for a tasty dish packed with heart-healthy fats and life-lengthening nutrients. Plus, it just tastes darn good! Aaaand, like the salad above, it only takes about 15 minutes to prepare.

Blood Orange Salad

As I mentioned before, blood oranges are one of the best varieties of oranges you can select for getting the most nutrients out of this colorful citrus sphere. This savory twist on a salad combines the unique sweet flavor of blood orange with the delicate spice of red onion and the savory bite of Kalamata olives. It's an interesting and attention-grabbing side dish for any meal, which also happens to pack a healthy punch.

orange nectarine salad

Orange and Nectarine Salad with Pea Shoots and Cumin-Shallot Vinaigrette

I have to admit, this is quite possibly the best salad I've ever made in my entire life. And I eat a lot of salads. Avocado, nectarine and of course orange slices form the base of the salad (this calls for Valencia but Cara Cara oranges or blood oranges would work really well for this dish too) and it is topped by the delicate flavor and texture of pea shoots drizzled with a shallot dressing and sprinkled with pistachios. It feels at once exotic, fancy, and yet comforting and satisfying. And the every-changing blend of flavors keeps your mouth happy with every bite.

Delicious Black Bean and Mandarin Orange Salsa Recipe

Spice up a meal with both flavor and nutrients by adding in a few spoonfuls of this fantastic salsa. Black beans and oranges are mixed with sweet red bell pepper, cilantro, olive oil, red wine vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper. It is a super simple recipe and yet goes a long way in adding some zip to a meal either as a side with chips, or as a topping for a salad or burger.

Baked Risotto with Orange and Vanilla Bean

I'm guessing you haven't ever heard of a risotto featuring orange and vanilla flavors before. This sweet version of the traditionally savory risotto is amazing as a side dish in a dinner or even as a dessert. What makes this risotto even more rebellious is that it is baked, which takes out a big portion of the workload and makes it even easier to cook up. Rice, coconut milk, oranges, vanilla, and cranberries are the major flavor players and of course all boast great health benefits of their own. If you ignore the fact that sugar and honey sweeten this dish (which you could definitely reduce as you tweak the recipe to your own preferences) then this is a pretty darn healthy meal!

Spiced Orange Shrub

Oranges are perfect for drinking and we're not just talking a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice here. This fizzy drink features orange, cinnamon, clove and allspice and is a perfect drink for fall and winter parties.

Orange Julian

A classic drink, usually associated with teenagers hanging out at the food court at the mall, can easily be made at home so you can enjoy it without, you know, being around teenagers in the food court in the mall. Just gather up oranges, banana, almond milk, ice and vanilla, and you have a healthier version of this fast food favorite.

orange chocolate cupcakes

Orange-Ginger Chocolate Cupcakes

The moment we've all been waiting for -- dessert recipes! Moist, rich, and vegan, these fluffy little chocolate cupcakes boast the bright flavor of oranges. The citrus and ginger flavors make these oh so much more than a simple chocolate dessert. Surprise your friends with your baking prowess by making these unique and delightful cupcakes.

Orange Yogurt Fruit Pops

On a hot day there's nothing better than a refreshing fruit pop. This recipe requires only orange juice, yogurt, sugar (which you could probably leave out for a healthier version), vanilla and a pinch of salt. You can make up the mix in just a couple minutes and put them in the freezer. In a few hours, you have a delightful sweet treat!

Sticky Orange Cake with Marmalade Glaze

Oh goodness, this cake will have you making yummy noises in no time. Vegan, quick and easy to make, and a most wonderfully moist dessert treat, you'll have your friends raving about this recipe if you bake it for them. And the frosting? Marmalade mixed with rum or vodka. I can't say that the health benefits of oranges really stand out when you're adding them to flour and sugar but... well, they certainly can't hurt!

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Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

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