Everyone knows eating fruit is a must if you want to follow a healthy eating plan. But is it true certain types are better than others? With shifting dietary trends, it seems as if the amount we should have every day keeps changing. Does it really matter?
Importance of Fruit
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, people who eat fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced eating plan are less likely to develop conditions such as stroke, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, and cancers of the mouth, stomach, and colon. In addition, these highly nutritious foods may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones.
Making Healthy Choices
You really can't go wrong when choosing a fruit. The most important thing to remember is variety. Choosing different colors from the plethora of choices will guarantee you receive the greatest benefits available from your meals and snacks. Different colored fruits contain different phytochemicals, which are compounds found only in plants, that provide great health benefits, such as reducing the risk for cancer and heart disease, in people who consume them regularly. A good example is blueberries, which are rich in antioxidants.
A good rule of thumb is to choose the darkest-colored fruit in the bunch. The darker the fruit, the more phytochemicals. This does not mean to always choose red apples over yellow pears because red is a darker color than yellow. It simply means to choose the reddest apple in the bunch of apples, the darkest plum in the group of plums, and the darkest strawberries of all the strawberries.
Many people wonder whether juice is as good for you as eating the food from which the juice was extracted. The simple answer is no. Whole foods of any kind provide more nutrients than juice, such as fiber and its ability to fill you up and keep your hunger levels in control. Fruit juice usually has some added sugar, as well, which adds unwanted calories to your daily intake. Beware of beverages labeled "fruit juice" that are mostly sugar. These drinks typically have about 10 percent or less real juice in them. The rest is sugar. Some examples of these are lemonade, orange drink, and fruit punch.
According to the USDA, the amount of fruit a person should have daily is based on their age, physical activity level, and sex. On average, adults should have about two cups per day, while women over 31 need about 1½ cups per day. These amounts are for people who engage in moderate exercise beyond their normal daily activities for about 30 minutes a day. If you exercise more, you can get away with consuming more calories and still maintain a healthy weight.
What counts as one cup? One small apple or half of a large apple, one large 8" or 9" banana, 32 seedless grapes, one large peach or two halves of canned peach, eight large strawberries, one medium pear.
Tips For Adding More
Shopping for fresh fruit can be discouraging because many varieties spoil relatively quickly. As you begin to add more fruit to your diet, you will become more aware of which ones you and/or your family like, as well as how much you will realistically eat. Here are some suggestions for adding more fruit to your diet.
- Buy frozen bags of your favorite variety. Not only is frozen fruit convenient because you can use only what you need and keep the rest without it going bad, but it contains all of the vitamins and minerals found in fresh forms. In fact, because they are frozen at the peak of their freshness, many may retain more nutrients because they have not been exposed to light and air that sap the nutrient content while on the long journey from the farm, to the distributor, to the supermarket, to your home. Berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are commonly found frozen, as are peaches.
- Canned fruit is another option. Make sure to read the label and look for the types packed in their own juice or in light syrup. Those packed in "heavy syrup" contain added sugar.
- Add fruit to anything, especially cereal and oatmeal, and desserts such as frozen yogurt or pudding. It is even good all by itself.
- Pair fruit with cottage cheese for a light snack, or top your pancakes with a medley of fruit instead of syrup.
- When you have a craving for sugar, reach for a juicy pear or firm, crisp grapes. You may be surprised how the sweetness of fruit can substitute for a candy bar!
Fruit tastes terrific, so it provides a delicious way to get the nutrition you need!