Research to promote citrus health benefits

Citrus April 27, 2023

There’s a huge disconnect between the science and public health messaging about citrus, especially when it comes to drinking its Vitamin C-rich juice.

Nutrition Research Australia (NRA) investigations aim to bust the myths about juice, reframe its health benefits and re-educate health care professionals so they can confidently recommend and support the consumption of citrus and its juices.

Speaking at the Citrus Australia Market Outlook Forum, NRA chief executive officer Dr Flavia Fayet-Moore said Vitamin C deficiency was a problem for 20 per cent of Australians, yet the Australian Dietary Guidelines only recommend 45 milligrams a day.

By contrast, guidelines in several European countries, as well as Singapore, Japan and China, recommend 100-110mg a day. A whole orange contains about 78mg of Vitamin C.

“Research published only two years ago shows that our recommended intake needs to nearly double for Vitamin C,” she said.

Dr Fayet-Moore said Vitamin C was an essential antioxidant for protecting cells against damage, helping the body heal and reducing the duration and severity of colds and flu.

Not only that, she said citrus contains other nutrients as well as a range of unique bioactives which are “compounds that make us healthy” and found at almost double the concentration in juice compared to whole fruit.

“We now know from research that bioactives explain most of the health effects that we see from eating fruits and vegetables, or eating plant foods,” she said.

They include hesperidin which slows the absorption of sugar by the body and the prebiotic beta-carotene which feeds good gut bacteria to boost the immune system and brain and heart health.

But juice has recently been demonised in Australia for its high sugar and acid content and low levels of fibre, with its health star rating downgraded in 2021 from five stars to as low as two stars – less than diet soft drink.

Dr Fayet-Moore said NRA would soon publish a paper on its Hort Innovation-funded research into “all the science that exists in the world on 100 per cent juice” and its health effects, along with facts about its affordability and nutrient density to support a revision of the Australian Dietary Guidelines. The research encompasses all fruit and vegetable juices, not just citrus.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines underpin the health star rating system, recommending the amount and kinds of foods to eat for health and wellbeing. The guidelines are being reviewed by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Dr Fayet-Moore said NRA also would launch an education campaign for healthcare professionals and develop collateral for them to share with patients.

“We want people to move from thinking that juice is really not good for you to thinking it’s a healthful choice and make sure that healthcare professionals feel reassured that it can be recommended for health, either sometimes or every day,” she said.

The information will also be used to help update the Citrus Australia website.

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