This article originally appeared on transforming-science.org.
This time of year, fresh fruits abound. No matter whether the fruit you eat is fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, all of the varieties offer a plethora of flavors, colors and, most importantly, health benefits.
In fruits, you will find phytochemicals, fiber, and nutrients like potassium and vitamin C that your body needs to function optimally. Although supplemental vitamins are on the market, scientists at the NC Research Campus recommend obtaining vitamins and minerals from natural, whole foods like fruits. For most people who maintain a nutritious, balanced diet including the recommended two cups of fruit per day, it is possible to obtain all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Amidst all the health benefits found in fruit, what you will not find are so called “anti-nutrients” like sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat that contribute to an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer when consumed in large amounts. Swapping out foods with high amounts of anti-nutrients for fruits that are high in nutrition is an easy way to improve your health.
Your energy supply
The proteins found in fruit provide fuel for the body in the form of amino acid building blocks that support protein production and promote structural integrity at the cellular level, all supporting an efficient metabolism and healthy organ systems.
Along with proteins as well as carbohydrates, fat is another source of fuel. Not many fruits contain fat. The avocado is one example of a fruit that does. Avocados are indeed fruits, and they have a high fat content that is almost exclusively made up of unsaturated or healthy fats. Confused about healthy versus unhealthy fat? You’re not alone. Nicholas Gillitt, PhD, Director of the Dole Nutrition Institute, breaks it down:
“Your body requires a certain amount of fat from the diet. However, only some fatty acids are important to a normally functioning metabolism. Saturated fat, which you do need a little of, is generally regarded as unhealthy, but the poly- and mono-unsaturated types are often incorporated into many important metabolic processes and are thus essential for life. The reality is you need to be aware of which types you are consuming and be able to distinguish between them in a food.”
For more on understanding healthy fats, click here.
Natural source of phytochemicals
Research is now showing phytochemicals to be very important for positive changes in human metabolism.
“Fruits and vegetables are the only food that can naturally give us phytochemicals,” says Gillitt of the compounds often referred to as antioxidants or bioactives.
Scientists learn more every day about how phytochemicals can help prevent disease. One theory is that antioxidants in fruits satisfy the electron requirement of free radicals circulating in the body. This electron donation prevents free radicals from “stealing” electrons from the cell’s proteins or other nutrients. We come into contact with free radicals on a regular basis, whether as a natural byproduct of sugar metabolism or from smoking and ultraviolet light exposure.
In 2015, Gillitt, along with scientists from the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, published research showing that the antioxidants we consume from foods like fruit stimulate our antioxidant response elements (ARE). They developed an assay that research showed was a better predictor of antioxidant benefits of fruits and vegetables than other measurements like total phenolic content. This study showed that red pear peel, pineapple, lemon flesh, green pear peel and red delicious apple peels are some of the top ARE activators among fruits.
Choosing Your Fruit
As you begin to include more fruits into your diet to take advantage of their high nutritional value, be aware of the types of fruit you choose to fill your daily dose.
• Canned fruit: Look for low or no added sugars – the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends less than 10 percent of calories per day should come from added sugars.
• Dried fruit: Look for low or no added sugars – about one-half cup of dried fruit counts as one cup-equivalent of fruit.
• Fruit juice: Look for 100% juice only with no added sugars.
Canned, dried, and juice products are great choices for reaching your daily quota, but the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that half of your daily consumption of fruits should come from whole fruits in order to obtain all of the available nutrients.
For more information on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, check out the following articles from the NCRC:
4 Reasons to Eat Vegetables
Breaking Down the Dietary Guidelines – Sugar
Eating Whole Grains
For ideas to swap healthy fruits with the current, less-nutritious foods in your diet, click here.