Although the evidence that citrus fruit or other sources of vitamin C can stave off the common cold is somewhat sketchy, citrus fruit has numerous other health benefits that make getting a daily dose of citrus a smart idea.

A study published online Feb. 23 in the journal Stroke indicates that the flavanones in citrus fruit could reduce the risk of stroke, particularly ischemic (clot-related) stroke.

Flavanones are a type of flavonoid, which are plant substances studied quite a bit in recent years for their potential health effects. Other kinds of flavonoids include flavonols, flavones and anthocyanins, and they’re found in a wide variety of plant-based foods, including all sorts of produce, dark chocolate (from the cocoa), coffee, tea and red wine. Citrus fruit is a good source of flavanones.

In the Stroke study, researchers used data from nearly 70,000 women participating in the ongoing U.S. Nurses’ Health Study who reported their food intake every four years. In looking at 14 years of follow-up data, the researchers found that the women who ate the most flavanones had a 19 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than those who ate the least. Nearly all the flavanones they consumed came from citrus fruit and juice.

While that’s the latest news regarding citrus and health, there’s plenty more. In fact, there’s ample evidence that a diet generally high in fruits and vegetables -- at least 2.5 cups a day -- is linked with an overall reduced risk of chronic disease. But citrus is a particularly good source of:

  • Vitamin C, vital to the formation of collagen, a primary component of the body’s connective tissue. Vitamin C also is a potent antioxidant, preventing damage from free radicals associated with cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases.  
  • Folate, which is essential for new cell growth. Folate, or folic acid, can help prevent anemia as well as birth defects.
  • Potassium, a mineral that counterbalances the effects of sodium. There’s some strong evidence saying our potassium-to-sodium intake should be 2-to-1, and daily consumption of citrus fruit can help toward that goal.