Are You Fruit Smart?

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, according to the age-old saying. It may be truer than most people realize.

Eating a couple of pieces of fruit a day could cut your risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 40 percent, says a new study released last month by Oxford University researchers.

The health benefits stem from just the equivalent of having an apple and half a banana, which is about two servings. The U.S. recommended daily fruit consumption is two to four servings a day, depending on an individual’s overall health and level of activity.

The Oxford study is just the latest research finding that points to significant health rewards for those who eat fruits daily, along with the recommended portions of vegetables, whole grains and other food groups outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Diabetics Can Benefit Too
Even diabetics can benefit from small portions of high-fiber fruits, despite a misconception to the contrary.

“I often get diabetics telling me, ‘Oh, I can’t have a banana,’” says Cathy Clark-Reyes, R.D., a dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care. “But they can, as long as they have small portions at a time, possibly mixed with almonds or other low-carb addition. Fiber, such as that found in fruits, is a source of carbohydrates that doesn’t turn into sugar.”

High-fiber fruits may help reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. The antioxidant effects of fruits can aid the heart in combating harmful — and naturally occurring — chemicals in the body.

But it’s not just about consuming any type or amount of fruits. Being “fruit smart” is about knowing which variety are healthiest, when it’s best to eat them and what’s the best way to consume them.

Juicing is an increasingly popular way of enjoying fruits, but extracting their juice breaks down the vital nutrients.

“By mechanically altering the fruit, you don’t get the filling property and the nutrient value may be less,” says Ms. Clark-Reyes. “Fiber is the source that makes you feel fuller. And by feeling fuller, you will consume less, yet be more satisfied. When you eat whole fruits you get all of their nutritional value.”

Here are four key considerations that will make you fruit smarter:

Fruits High in Fiber
Fiber combined with fluid intake moves relatively easily through your digestive tract and helps your body  function properly. A high-fiber diet is known to help individuals control their weight and reduce risk factors for heart disease. Fiber also helps reduce the risk of several types of cancer, including colon cancer. Fruits are an excellent and tasty source of fiber.  Based on total fiber in grams, the highest fiber fruits are raspberries,  pears (with skin), apples (with skin), blackberries, blueberries, grapes, bananas, oranges, strawberries and avocados.

Most Americans aren’t getting enough fiber. The average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber per day. Women need 25 grams of fiber per day, and men need 38 grams per day, according to the Institute of Medicine.  A food item is considered a “good source of fiber” if it has 10-19 percent, or higher, of the “Daily Value” recommended under FDA guidelines.

Juicing vs. Whole Fruits
Eating more whole fruits was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a study last year by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. However, greater consumption of fruit juices was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. The widely cited study added to the debate over juicing, a popular and convenient way for some people to consumer they daily dose of fruits.

But despite its convenience, juice is generally a less healthy option than a real piece of fruit. The juicing process destroys a number of fruits’ beneficial compounds and antioxidants. It also removes much of the natural fiber mentioned above. Unfortunately, juicing retains or even unleashes more of the fruits’ sugar. Here’s a good example of the problem: eight ounces of regular orange juice contains over 110 calories, the equivalent of almost two oranges. However, the juice doesn’t contain any fiber so it doesn’t feel you up as would the two oranges

Unripe vs. Ripe
No fruit better illustrates when it’s best to eat a piece of fruit than the banana. A big benefit of green bananas is the high “resistant starch”, which converts to simple sugar when the fruit ripens. For those trying to avoid high sugar foods, a banana that’s greener is better and also has pro-biotic bacteria, which helps with colon health. Unfortunately, a riper banana tastes better and most people avoid the greener variety. Not all fruits are equal, however, so avoiding fruits that are too ripe is always a good idea. Fruits that are ripe do have their benefits, including highly active antioxidants. But individuals sensitive to sugar spikes need to be cautious.

How Much Should You Have?
The amount of fruit a person needs daily depends on age, gender and level of physical activity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For most adults, the daily recommendation is two servings. For children, the range is from one to two cups.  One serving is generally considered a half a cup. Two servings a day is best for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, the USDA says.

Two servings a day is also good for diabetics, who often mistakenly assume they cannot have fruits.  Diabetics can have small portions of high-fiber fruits, preferably whole fruits—not juices. If you exercise regularly and don’t have to worry about blood-sugar levels, you may be able to consume four servings or more of fruit, while staying within your caloric needs.  The USDA also provides a helpful chart on “what counts as a cup of fruit?”  One cup of fruit would include, for example, 1 small apple (2.5 inches in diameter), one large banana (eight to nine inches), one large orange (3 inches in diameter) or one large peach (nearly 3 inches in diameter).

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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