I limit fruit to save calories. Which are the healthiest types I should eat? How often?
If you’re trying to lose weight – or hold your weight steady – you can’t eat all the fruit you want despite how nutritious it is. Neither can people with prediabetes or diabetes trying to control blood glucose (sugar). Consider that the natural sugars in one medium-size fruit deliver approximately 85 to 105 calories. Eating too much fruit can add a calorie surplus to your diet.
Even so, I don’t advise eliminating fruit from your diet. From a nutrition standpoint, it has a lot more going for it than other foods you may be eating (e.g. refined carbohydrates, processed foods). My point: Before you shun fruit, consider swapping it for something less nutritious in your diet.
Fruit is a good source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and hundreds of phytochemicals. A higher fruit intake has been shown to guard against heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cataract, macular degeneration, even type 2 diabetes. That’s why I advise my clients who are following a weight-loss plan to include two to three servings of whole fruit (not juice) in their diet each day. (One serving is equivalent to one medium-size fruit, 1 cup of berries or chopped fruit, or half a grapefruit, mango or papaya.)
Fruit varies when it comes to nutrient and phytochemical content, so it’s important to eat a variety over the course of the day and over the course of a week. While all types of fruit are nutritious, I recommend including the following types in the mix on a regular basis.
An apple a day provides a generous amount of quercetin, an antioxidant thought to reduce allergy symptoms and protect from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Apple eaters are also less likely to suffer from stroke and die from cardiovascular disease compared to non-apple eaters.
Antioxidants in apples may prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and dampen inflammation in the body. (Oxidized LDL cholesterol is more likely to damage arteries.) Plus, apples are a good source of soluble fibre, the kind that helps lower LDL cholesterol.
Mix chopped apple into oatmeal; add apple slices to a turkey sandwich; snack on a red or green apple midday; enjoy a baked apple for dessert.
A higher intake of citrus fruit has been tied to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, cataract, macular degeneration and cognitive impairment. Oranges and grapefruit offer plenty of vitamin C, folate, potassium and thiamin as well as some vitamin A, calcium, magnesium and fibre.
Citrus fruit also contains flavonones, phytochemicals shown to protect brain cells, strengthen and tone blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
Replace juice at breakfast with half a grapefruit; add orange segments to smoothies, yogurt, bean salads and green salads; serve a grapefruit salsa (chopped grapefruit, cilantro, red onion, peppers) with fish or chicken.
Grapefruit interacts with many drugs, including some used to treat high cholesterol and blood pressure. Consult your pharmacist about potential interactions between grapefruit and any medications you are taking.
Berries have heart-protective, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties thanks to their unique mix of powerful phytochemicals. Eating berries, especially blueberries, may also protect brain cells from oxidative damage. Cherries and cranberries are also good sources of these phytochemicals.
Toss fresh blueberries, blackberries, strawberries or raspberries into a bowl of breakfast cereal or Greek yogurt; blend fresh or frozen into smoothies and protein shakes; top whole-grain waffles and pancakes with whole berries or sliced strawberries instead of syrup.
Compared to other types of fruit, bananas, cantaloupe and honeydew melon lead the pack when it comes to potassium, a mineral that helps maintain fluid balance and protect against high blood pressure. Potassium is also critical for normal muscle, nerve and brain function.
Many adults don’t meet daily potassium requirements (4,700 mg), largely because they don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. One cup of chopped cantaloupe packs 440 mg of potassium, followed by honeydew (426 mg per 1 cup) and a medium-sized banana (422 mg).
Include cut-up banana and melon in fruit salads; add melon to green smoothies; top melon slices with yogurt and chopped mint; replace fat in quick bread recipes with mashed banana.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel’s Direct; lesliebeck.com.