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Thursday
Jan152015

What Role Should Fruit Play in Your Diet?

In my client sessions, questions like these often come up. Can I eat more fruit instead of vegetables? Can I eat fruit at all if I'm trying to lose weight? What role should fruit have in a healthy diet? 

Fruit in its whole, natural state is a nutrient-dense food group. Yet, we need to consider the bigger picture in determining its optimum role for our health and weight loss endeavors.

When we balance fruit's macronutrient profile with its micronutrient benefits, we can understand how it should best fit into our eating plan.

Read on to learn the unique advantages of fruit as well as the cautions and to assess the place fruit can have in your diet - especially if you’re looking to lose weight and/or limit your carb intake. 

Is Fruit Healthy?

Fruit in its most natural state (e.g. whole food, natural growing conditions) contains all sorts of great nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, water and fiber. Some fruits also contain phytonutrients, which are compounds that can help prevent and/or fight disease. The color of each fruit (e.g. red, green, white, etc.) determines the type and amount of phytonutrients, and each and every fruit has its own unique nutrient profile. To take advantage of the full nutritional spectrum, I highly encourage my clients to eat a variety of different fruits and to focus on what’s in season and locally grown whenever possible.

Where the picture gets more complex is the macronutrient breakdown. Fruit are naturally dense in carbohydrates. Although our bodies need some carbohydrates (produce should be our main source), it’s easy to overdo it with fruit. 

How Much Fruit Can I Eat?

Often, fruit recommendations are lumped in with vegetables (i.e. “Eat 9-11 servings of vegetables and fruit each day.”). These statements can lead us to believe that vegetables and fruit are essentially synonymous in our diets (wrong!) If we’re like most sweet-toothed Americans, we’ll tend to eat mostly fruits and probably too many of them. One great rule of thumb I often recommend is to eat 2-3 times as many servings of vegetables as fruit. That way you still focus on getting ample vegetables in your diet. 

Because of fruit’s carbohydrate density, I generally recommend most people get no more than 2 servings of fruit each day – especially if they are working toward weight loss goals. If you’re a healthy weight and extremely active during the day, you may be able to get away with an additional serving or two. Generally speaking, one serving of fruit usually equates to a fist size (e.g. “tennis-ball sized” apple, a cup of berries, half of a small banana). I also suggest focusing on whole fruits in their natural state versus drinking fruit juice or eating dried fruit. Fruit juice really is more of a sweetened beverage than it is a fruit serving. Likewise, a handful of dried fruit can do as much damage to your blood sugar as a handful of candy. 

What about Organic?

One question clients commonly ask me is whether organic is necessary. The first goal might be just to increase the amount of fruits and/or vegetables in your diet. Later, if possible, we absolutely work toward favoring organic versions of these foods. Choosing organic means you’re avoiding toxins, herbicides and pesticides in your food, which could potentially impair your metabolism and cause other health problems. Last year the Life Cafés inside of our club facilities converted most of their fruit offerings to organic. When you grab a post-workout shake, you can feel good that the fruit is organic and free of toxins!

Most of my clients have heard of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen.” I always recommend prioritizing organic with these twelve produce foods if you can’t afford or find organic for all of your produce. The Dirty Dozen shifts slightly each year based on the EWG's annual research but generally includes the following produce items.

  • Apples
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Grapes, imported (Chili)
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Raspberries
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

Tips for Incorporating Fruit

Aim for 2 servings of fruit each day. One serving equates to a cup of berries, half of a small banana, a small apple or orange, or a cup of melon. Note that berries, in particular, are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients that can help ward off disease.

Shop for organic produce whenever possible and at the very least, stick to the Dirty Dozen list when prioritizing.

Variety is key. Because every fruit has its own nutrient profile, choosing a variety of colors and sources will amp up the nutrients in your diet. Choose fruits that are in season and local to your area when possible. Unlike our ancestors, we’re able to get our hands on any type of fruit during any time of the year. If you stick to seasonal and, when possible, local fruits, they’ll be richer in nutrients. Longer shipping routes mean fruit is sometimes picked well before ripeness, which can lower the nutrient value.  

Think of fruit as “nature’s candy.” Because of their natural sweetness and carbohydrate density, I’d encourage using fruit as a snack during your day and a way to complement your protein and/or healthy fat food sources. One great rule is to never eat fruit (or carbs!) “naked” because of their effect on your blood sugar.  So, sprinkle some berries over your organic cottage cheese, or cook some apple slices with your pork for dinner! For a sweet and satisfying dessert, try (my all-time favorite) berries served in heavy cream.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Do you have additional questions or would you like to learn more about the balance of fruit and vegetables in a Healthy Way of Eating? Talk with one of our registered dietitians today!

In health, Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

 

 

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