Tips from our Oncology Dietitians: When life gives you lemons, use them to flavor your foods

Feb. 20, 2018

When you think about lemons and limes, sugar-laden summer beverages may come to mind. However, these brightly colored fruits can have a place in a healthy, whole-food, plant-based diet, which research shows has many benefits for reducing your risk of some diseases, including several types of cancer.

Sue Czap and Melissa Zahn, registered dietitians at Wilmot Cancer Institute, share some helpful information about these brightly colored fruits.

citrus fruitsGetting to know citrus. Most people know that oranges come packed with vitamin C, but they also have lots of potassium, folic acid and phytonutrients. If eaten whole, they also have dietary fiber. Keep as much of that “white stuff” on the orange as possible, though. That’s where the fiber is!

Lots of possibilities. Many varieties of orange are available: Valencias, blood oranges, cara cara, navels, clementines or mandarins, to name a few. Also in the citrus family, we have lemons, limes and grapefruit. While these are available year-round, they’re considered in season in the late fall and winter months so you might see more variety in citrus fruits that time of year. See what your grocery store has and get what you like, or try something new.

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy may enjoy the flavor citrus brings. Patients undergoing chemotherapy may experience taste changes. For some, that means food has a metallic taste. The acid in citrus can balance sweet, salty and metallic tastes of foods, which can sometimes help improve the flavor.

A few words of caution. Sometimes, chemotherapy drugs may cause mouth sores as a side effect. Patients who experience this may want to avoid citrus all together because the acidity of citrus fruits can be painful or irritating. It’s also worth mentioning that grapefruit can interact with some common prescription medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.

Oranges and other citrus fruits can be more than just a tasty snack. Zesting is a great way to add citrus flavor to dishes without adding extra liquid. Several recipes used in Wilmot’s Cooking for Wellness class incorporate citrus zest for this reason. Not sure how to zest? This might help

Also, citrus juices can prevent browning of some foods. For example, try putting a little lime juice with a dish that has avocado or lemon juice in dishes with raw apple to prevent color changes. Citrus juices can also work nicely as an alternative to vinegars in salad dressing or marinades. They are a tasty addition in beverages, such as smoothies, infused waters or “mocktails.” This Spa in a Pitcher recipe is great on a hot day!

Additionally, for seafood lovers, citrus matches beautifully with fish. Sue recommends this triple citrus cod recipe, which she prepares often at home.

Want more ideas? Wilmot’s Cooking for Wellness blog has plenty of recipes, including this citrus salad on mango puree with shaved chocolate and toasted almonds, this beet and orange salad with citrus vinaigrette or this winter fruit salad.