Mikan’s health benefits offer reason to indulge

The Japan News

By Kumi Matsumaru / Japan News Staff Writer“If you eat too many mikan, your skin will turn yellow!” I was often told this when I was small. I actually did eat mikan almost everyday during winter and my palms had a yellowish hue. Nevertheless, I thought the saying was nothing more than a joke.

According to a mikan expert, however, the yellow color indicates that the popular Japanese fruit contains beta-cryptoxanthin, a substance easily absorbed into the body that can turn one’s skin yellow.

A far more surprising fact is that mikan, which is officially called “unshu mikan,” is not only tasty but helpful in reducing the incidence of age-driven illnesses.

“Studies show people who often eat mikan are less likely to develop type-2 diabetes or osteoporosis thanks to the high content of beta-cryptoxanthin, a kind of carotenoid, in mikan,” said Masamichi Yano, a former researcher at the Institute of Fruit Tree Science of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization. Yano has studied mikan for 20 years.

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    A dessert prepared with mikan

People with type-2 diabetes, which is considered a lifestyle disease, don’t produce enough insulin or don’t produce insulin that the body can use properly, while people with type-1 diabetes produce little to no insulin.

According to Yano, a study of residents of Mikkabicho, a town famous for mikan in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, found that people with high beta-cryptoxanthin blood levels were 57 percent less likely to develop type-2 diabetes than those with low levels of the substance.

The study surveyed 886 residents aged 30 to 70 over a 10-year period. Some who had diabetes at the start were eventually excluded. It can be inferred that those with low beta-cryptoxanthin blood levels did not eat mikan every day, while those with high levels likely ate about four mikan daily.

Another study, also jointly conducted by the Institute of Fruit Tree Science and Hamamatsu University School of Medicine, found that those with high beta-cryptoxanthin blood levels were an astounding 92 percent less likely to develop osteoporosis than those with low beta-cryptoxanthin levels.

The osteoporosis study covered 701 residents of Mikkabicho and lasted four years, and likewise excluded those with osteoporosis at the onset.

So how many mikan should we eat each day to maximize the health benefits?

“I recommend eating up to four mikan a day. You can use mikan for cooking sweets, too,” Yano said. “All citrus fruits contain beta-cryptoxanthin ... but unshu mikan contains more than any other citrus varieties. Choose ripe mikan with a darker shade of orange, as that shows they have a higher beta-cryptoxanthin content.”

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