Are You Eating Enough Fruit?


Most of us like fruit-but still dont get enough. Heres how to pick the fiber, potassium, vitamin C, antioxidants and other low-hanging benefits of fruit.

With the unveiling of MyPlate, the USDAs replacement for the food pyramid (see the August Special Report), fruits are suddenly in the spotlight. Fruits are allocated almost a quarter of the MyPlate graphic of an ideal plate, and the key recommendation of the whole program is to make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

Population studies have found that fruit consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. Some fruits may also be protective against certain types of cancer.

But surely most American are already eating plenty of fruits, right? Vegetables can sometimes get a bad rap, from children turning up their noses at Brussels sprouts to the first President Bush refusing to eat broccoli. Most people like most fruits, however, so how can there be a shortfall?

Nonetheless, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans warn that more than half of Americans fall short of recommended fruit intake (see box). According to the USDAs Economic Research Service, Americans consumed only 0.84 cups of fruit per day in 2008.

Moreover, adults under age 30 consume more than half of their fruits as juice. As the Guidelines note, Although 100% fruit juice can be part of a healthful diet, it lacks dietary fiber and when consumed in excess can contribute extra calories. Consider orange juice, Americas most popular morning fruit choice: One cup contains just a half-gram of fiber, while a cup of orange slices delivers 4.3 grams of dietary fiber. In the bargain, the whole fruit contains only about two-thirds the calories.

So the Guidelines advise, The majority of the fruit recommended should come from whole fruits, including fresh, canned, frozen and dried forms. To limit intake of added sugars, look for fruit canned in 100% fruit juice.

Necessary Nutrients
Fiber is also a reason to really consume the whole fruit, including the peel, when eating apples, pears and other fruits with edible peels. Two-thirds of the fiber in an apple is found in the peel, for instance, along with many of the antioxidants.

Fiber can help improve cholesterol levels and improve digestion. While all fruits are sources of fiber, some are particular standouts, contributing more than 20% of the Daily Value (DV, 25 grams) in a single serving. These fiber-rich fruitsinclude:

    • apples
    • Asian pears
    • blackberries
    • guava
    • kumquats
    • pears
    • persimmons
    • pomegranates
    • raspberries

But fiber is just one of the nutrients that fruits bring to the table. Like fiber, many of the nutrients found in fruit are under-consumed by Americans in general or by specific at-risk groups. These include folate, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A (carotenoids), C and K.

Fruits are probably best known as a source of vitamin C, which is important for growth and repair of all body tissues, helps heal cuts and wounds, and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Again, all fruits contain vitamin C, but some deliver more than 20% of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) in a single serving. Among the fruits highest in vitamin C:

    • blackberries
    • cantaloupe
    • grapefruit
    • guava
    • honeydew melons
    • kiwi
    • kumquats
    • lemons
    • limes
    • mangoes
    • oranges
    • papaya
    • pineapples
    • raspberries
    • star fruit
    • strawberries
    • tangerines
    • watermelon

But dont overlook fruit as a source of potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Recent research has suggested that potassium may do even more to promote vascular health, including reducing artery stiffness and protecting against the damage from excess sodium intake. Good fruit sources of potassiuminclude:

    • bananas
    • cantaloupe
    • dried apricots
    • dried peaches
    • honeydew melons
    • orange juice
    • prunes and prune juice

Fruits are also among your best sources of polyphenol compounds (antioxidants) such as flavonoids, whose varied health benefits are the subject of ongoing scientific research. Berries, especially rich in these compounds, may even be good for your brain. In animal studies conducted by Tufts researchers, antioxidants found in berries have been shown to reverse age-related declines in the brains ability to process information, as well as cognitive and motor deficits. (See our Special Report on berries in the August 2009 issue.)

In a USDA analysis of antioxidant levels in more than 100 foods, fruits represented 13 of the top 20 ranked by total antioxidant capacity per serving size. But Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, director of Tufts HNRCA Antioxidants Research Laboratory, cautions against reading too much into these numbers: These values are not a measure relevant to potential health benefits or recommended nutrient intakes.

Eating a variety of fruits, rather than chasing after antioxidant superfruits, is your best supermarket strategy. That way youll enjoy the full menu of nutrients in fruits, and can save money by picking fruits that are in season. Dont overlook frozen fruits, which are usually picked and frozen at their nutritional peak; frozen fruits also let you use only what you need, avoiding the problem of spoilage.

While the dollar cost of fruit can be high, says Blumberg, their nutritional value is higher. According to a new USDA report on the cost of healthy food, as of 2006 whole fruit was actually less expensive per 100 grams than commercially prepared packaged sweets or savory snacks.

A Free Lunch?
Unlike packaged sweets or snacks, fruits are also nutritional standouts for what they dont contain. All fruits are cholesterol-free, and most are naturally very low in fat and sodium. One medium apple, for example, has only 0.05 grams of saturated fats and 2 milligrams of sodium.

The nutrients in fruit come at a relatively bargain price in calories, too. And because many fresh fruits are about 85% water, they fill you up and reduce the temptation to indulge in less-healthy choices. Last year, in fact, Weight Watchers changed its popular point system so fruits are free, counting as zero points toward members totals.

But that doesnt mean fruits are actually zero-calorie: You should add fruits to your diet in place of other, less-nutritious, higher-calorie foods. Simply eating an extra banana every day, even though bananas are packed with important nutrients, would add up in a year to more than 38,000 additional calories-enough to put on almost 11 pounds. On the other hand, eating a banana instead of the same amount of potato chips, by weight, would slice 535 calories per day off your intake-nearly 200,000 calories a year!

Pesticide contamination can be a concern with fruits, although most experts agree that the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits outweigh the risks. By shopping smartly and opting for organic fruits only when buying types most at risk of contamination, you can lower your exposure to pesticides by more than 90%, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

How much fruit do you need? The federal Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults ages 19-30 consume two cups (or equivalents) daily. After age 30, women need a cup and a half, while men continue to need two cups of fruit daily.

What counts as a cup of fruit?In general, one cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or a half-cup of dried fruit can be considered as one cup toward your daily recommended amount. Also count as one cup:

    • 1/2 large (3.25 diameter) or 1 small (2.5 diameter) apple
    • 1 large banana (8-9 long)
    • 1 medium grapefruit (4 diameter)
    • 1 large orange (3 1/16 diameter)
    • 1 large peach (2 3/4 diameter)
    • 1 medium pear (6-7 oz.)
    • 3 medium or 2 large plums
    • about 8 large strawberries
    • 1 small wedge of watermelon (1 thick)

In the latest Dirty Dozen rankings by the EWG of fruits and vegetables worst for pesticides (see this issues NewsBites for details), these pesticide-prone fruits made the list for produce where it makes the most sense to buy organic, if youre worried about pesticides:

    • apples (the number-one dirtiest)
    • strawberries
    • peaches
    • imported nectarines
    • imported grapes
    • domestic blueberries

None of these fruits, however, actually exceeded USDA safety guidelines for pesticide contamination.

The EWGs Clean 15 of produce lowest in pesticideincluded these fruits, where theres the least need to pick organic:

    • pineapples
    • mangoes
    • domestic cantaloupe
    • kiwi
    • watermelon
    • grapefruit

Pesticides arent the only problem that can lurk in your fruits. To remove dirt and surface microorganisms, the USDA advises rinsing fruits (other than those, like bananas, with tough peels that you discard) before preparing or eating them. Under clean, running water, rub fruits briskly with your hands, then dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel after rinsing. Its also important to keep fruits separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood while shopping, preparing or storing.

Beyond OJ
If youre not getting enough fruits in your diet, here are some tips from the USDA for giving your food a nutritious, fruity boost:

    • At breakfast, top your cereal with bananas or peaches; add blueberries to pancakes; drink 100% fruit juice; mix fruit with plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt.
    • At lunch, pack a tangerine, banana or grapes to eat, or choose fruits from a salad bar.
    • At dinner, add crushed pineapple to coleslaw, or include orange sections or grapes in a tossed salad.
    • Try meat dishes that incorporate fruit, such as chicken with apricots or mangoes. (You can even use fruits to keep meats like extra-lean turkey burger tasting juicy-see this issues recipe for an example.)
    • Add fruit like pineapple or peaches to kabobs as part of a barbecue meal.
    • For fresh fruit salads, mix apples, bananas or pears with acidic fruits like oranges, pineapple or lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.
    • For dessert, have baked apples, pears or a fruit salad.
    • For a snack, spread peanut butter on apple slices or top plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt with berries or slices of kiwi fruit.
    • Frozen juice bars (100% juice) make healthy alternatives to high-fat snacks.
    • Many fruits taste great with a dip or dressing. Try fat-free or low-fat yogurt as a dip for fruits like strawberries or melons.
    • Make a fruit smoothie by blending fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit. Try bananas, peaches, strawberries or other berries.
    • Try unsweetened applesauce as a lower-calorie substitute for some of the oil when baking cakes.

Whatever fruits you pick, youll enjoy one of Mother Natures great nutritional bargains.


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