Grabbing the nearest piece of fruit when you have a sugar craving may be a healthier choice when it comes to watching your waistline but are some options healthier than others? Dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot explains.
Why is fruit so nutritious?
Fruit is high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which makes eating fruits essential to a healthy diet. Fruits seem like a treat, but look closer and you’ll see why they do everything from fight disease to help with weight control. Luscious blueberries and raspberries for example are rich in antioxidants, plus they are low in calories, sodium, fat, and have no cholesterol. And the high water and fiber content in some fruits make them very filling and great for dieters. Did you know that just one cup of raspberries has a whopping eight grams of belly-satiating fiber?
Why is it good to eat a variety of fruit?
According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines, a person on a 2,000-calorie diet should consume about two cups of fruit per day. Each kind of fruit has its own nutritional profile, so it is good to eat a variety of fruits for maximum nutrition. Bananas are a great source of potassium, oranges are high in vitamin C, and cantaloupes are a good way to get some vitamin A.
Is whole fruit better than fruit juice?
Juicing fruits is a hot trend right now, and for sure some types of fruit juice are truly good for you. It’s still preferable to eat certain fruits such as apples, plums, and pears in their whole form. That’s because many of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you want are in the skin and pulp. When fruits are juiced the pulp is often removed and sometimes the skin is taken off, too, sacrificing nutrients and lot of fiber. Case in point: an apple in its whole form has 4g of fiber while apple juice has zero fiber.
Keep in mind that many commercial fruit juices are not 100 percent juice; some are watered down and these probably have lots of added sugars. Fruits are naturally sweet and shouldn't need additives to make them sweeter. Be sure to read the nutrition label on packaged fruit juices so you can spot those that are mostly sugar, water, and made using fruit flavorings — not fruit at all! These fruit imposters saddle you with empty calories and drinking them do not count towards your daily recommended two-cup intake of fruit.
Fresh, frozen or canned?
Fresh produce may be expensive and limited during the winter months, so many people turn to frozen fruit. The good news is that servings of frozen fruit can be equal — or even nutritionally superior — to fresh fruits. As a general rule, fruits are at their nutritious best when they are left on the vine for the longest possible time, so ideally we’d pick and eat them right away when they are at their ripest. When you buy whole fruits that are not in season, chances are they were harvested before they were fully ripe, left to ripen off the stem on their way to the supermarket. Frozen fruits have the advantage of staying on the stem longer and freezing them at their peak locks in their nutrients.
When fruits are in season it’s fine to opt for fresh, whole fruit — especially locally grown because the growers can harvest it when it is ripe and ship to market over a short distance. During the year when your favorite fruits are out of season, just head over to the frozen fruit section.
What about canned fruits?
Canned fruits, like frozen, are usually harvested when they are fully ripe — and very nutritious. You can’t beat canned for convenience, but you should look at how the fruit was prepared and packed. Some canned fruits are packed in sugary heavy syrup, adding a heap of sugary calories. Fortunately canned fruit comes in several varieties, including light syrup and best of all packed in its own juice. If in doubt, you can always rinse canned fruit before eating.
Fresh fruit all-stars
Some fruits deserve special recognition as nutritional standouts:
- Highest in Vitamin C: Strawberries, Kiwi, and Papaya
- Highest in Fiber: Raspberries
- Highest in Antioxidants: Blueberries
- Highest in Potassium: Bananas
Harmful bacteria may contaminate fresh fruits during harvesting, so it is important to take necessary precautions to ensure that the fruit you are about to eat is safe. Always purchase fruits that are not bruised or damaged, and keep perishable fruits in a refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below. Most importantly, wash your fruit thoroughly before peeling, cutting, and eating … even if you are not eating the skin.
For advice on healthy eating, drinking and weight loss, check out my new book The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber!