Posted on May 20 2018
In the book How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger, the recommendation is often made that to improve your health you should eat more fruits and vegetables. So, fruits get lumped together with vegetables as components of a more healthy plant-based diet. I would like to take a closer look just at fruit in this week’s Artful Living Health Blog.
Sometimes I think that when people hear the phrase “fruits and vegetables” they unconsciously rank vegetables ahead of fruit in terms of health benefits. Surely something that tastes as good (and often as sweet) as fruit can’t be as good for you as more savory tasting vegetables. Can they?
Well, in fact fruit provides higher quantities of some nutrients than similar quantities of vegetables. Indeed, trials have shown that if you replace two servings of starchy vegetables with two servings of fruit, you can lower your risk of heart disease by 20% to 25%. Your target should be at least 1 and ½ to 2 cups of fruit per day. That would be the equivalent of 3 to 4 “servings” of fruit because a “serving” is ½ cup. And summer is a great time to increase your fruit consumption because they are both more plentiful and less expensive in the summer.
One concern people have about eating fruit is that they contain sugar, and many people want to avoid or reduce their sugar intake. But the sugars in fruit do not have the same negative effects that “added sugars” like high-fructose corn syrup can have on your health. Hannah Meier, research associate at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University points out that “Although the natural sugar in fruit is chemically similar to table sugar, our bodies process whole fruits differently because of the fiber, phytochemicals, and micronutrients” found in whole fruit. For example, the fiber in fruit slows the rate at which the natural sugars are released into the bloodstream, preventing the spikes and crashes that might otherwise be experienced after eating a processed sugary treat.
All fruits are high in fiber and potassium, and most are also good sources of vitamins A and C, folate, and a wide variety of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and other flavonoids are potent antioxidants which can assist in better brain and heart health as well as reduce the risk of cancer. Anthocyanins reduced the risk of hypertension by 8% to 12% in people who consumed the most fruit in a 14-year study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They also improve vascular function, reduce inflammation in blood vessels and improve blood flow.
The evidence also exists that higher intake of fruit may be protective against cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lung, and stomach according to the latest report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund. There is some evidence that it reduces the risk of pancreatic, liver, and colorectal cancer, too.
And how about brain health? A 2012 Harvard study found that those who ate one or more servings of blueberries or two or more servings of strawberries per week delayed cognitive aging by 2 and ½ years as compared with those who ate the fewest berries. More strawberries, please!
The fiber in fruit also helps to fill you up, which may help you with weight control as well as improve your cholesterol levels. And in spite of the fact that fruit contains sugar, fruit is not especially high in calories. For example, for a total of 100 calories you could eat 26 strawberries, 128 blueberries, 19 cherries, 2 peaches, or 12 ounces of watermelon. That's a lot of fruit!
When the recommended amount of fruit is consumed, fruit contributes 16% of our daily recommended fiber intake and 17% of our daily requirement of potassium. Potassium not only helps counteract our tendency to consume too much salt, but it also helps to lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessel walls. And the phytochemicals in fruit, especially berries, also appear to help people maintain their weight as they get older, rather than letting the weight gradually accumulate as happens to so many older Americans.
While all fruit is good for you, eating whole fruit, with the skin, is the best approach, because the skin is where most of the antioxidants are stored. Frozen and canned fruit are as healthy as fresh fruit (assuming it contains no added sugars).
So, go ahead and enjoy more fruit this summer! It won’t make you fat and it will help to improve your health in many ways.