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Grapes at a fruit and vegetable stand at Vancouver's Granville Island market.

JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

QUESTION

A lot of healthy eating plans emphasize consuming large amounts of vegetables but put tight limits on the number of fruit servings a person should eat each day. But can you really eat too much fruit? Aren't fruits full of antioxidants and vitamins that are important to good health?

ANSWER

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A 2009 Statistics Canada review of Canadian dietary habits shows that people do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Low fruit and vegetable intake is linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and some cancers.

Fruit is a source of energy, rich in potassium, vitamin C and various fibres. While fruit is a great substitute for higher fat and sugary, processed snacks, it is possible to eat too much of it.

Healthy adults require a variety of foods to be well-nourished. Eating too much of one food likely means other foods, and therefore other nutrients, are being neglected. If a person is eating lots of fruit, valuable nutrients found in dark green and orange vegetables - such as vitamin A, folate, carotenoids and fibres - may be missed.

Fruit often contains more concentrated sugars than vegetables and thus provides more calories per serving. And fruit juice contains significantly more sugar and calories and little fibre.

For instance, one cup of raw spinach (one serving of vegetables) contains more antioxidants and fewer calories than one banana. A medium-sized banana, (one serving of fruit), contains 105 calories, 35 units of beta-carotene (an antioxidant) but also 14.5 grams of sugars. A cup of raw spinach has seven calories, 1,783 units of beta-carotene, but only 0.13 grams of sugars.

The Institute of Basic Medical Sciences completed a study in 2006 at the University of Oslo, Norway, of the top antioxidant-rich foods. It found that spices and beans (small red, kidney and pinto) contain the highest amount of antioxidants. Fruits such as wild blueberries and cranberries also made the list, however these are not the most commonly eaten by Canadians.

Variety and moderation are guiding principles of healthy eating. Proper nourishment is achieved by eating a variety of foods in moderation over time. Both fruits and vegetables play important roles in our diet. As a rule, the average adult should eat between three and five servings of fruit as part of a balanced diet - just don't give up your greens or beans for these sweeter options.

Nishta Saxena is a clinical dietician at University Health Network in Toronto.



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