Choosing Fruit

Health experts recommend five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and about 40 percent of this amount should come from fruits alone. Sliced, whole or mixed into a fruit salad, fruits can provide our bodies with vitamins and nutrients essential for health and growth.

Which Fruits are Best for You?

Different fruits boast different health benefits, and some are better for us than others. For instance:

  • Bananas contain high levels of healthy potassium, but also contain more sugar than many other fruit choices.
  • Breadfruit and Avocados are high in fat and calories, though the fat they provide is healthy.
  • Watermelon is a high-sugar fruit that’s composed mostly of water. However, watermelon contains healthy levels of potassium, fiber and vitamin C.

Many fruits boast benefits that aren’t widely known, such as:

  • Blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants, which ward off cancer and macular degeneration.
  • Oranges can help lower cholesterol.
  • Strawberries may help prevent heart disease and ease inflammation.

Tips for Choosing Fruit

We’ve all seen other shoppers thumping honeydews, smelling cantaloupes and squeezing avocados. What are these people searching for? How do they know when they find it? Here are few tips to keep in mind.

  • Fruit is always at its best when it’s in season. Most of the time, berries and other small fruits ripen in the early summer, and larger tougher fruits with rinds–like cantaloupe and melon–come along later, in August. Apples are best in the early fall.
  • Gently thumping a melon is not a precise testing method, but an unripe melon will usually give a hollow sound when thumped. A ripe melon, since it’s less dense inside, will give a flat, thudding sound.
  • If you aren’t sure, ask. The store management should be happy to let you taste small fruits, and if the staff can’t answer your questions about the age and origin of the produce, it may be time to find another store.
  • Large fruits like watermelon tend to have a flat yellowish spot where they rested on the floor of the crate or truck during shipping. This spot tends to grow larger and flatter as the fruit approaches ripeness.

Fruits vs. Juices

Fruit juice and whole fruits are nutritionally different. Most commercial fruit juices are low in nutritive value and contain high amounts of fructose, or fruit sugar. Babies and young children should only consume limited amounts of fruit juice because of its high sugar content.

Whole fruits are a different story. The health benefits of most whole fruits more than compensate for their sugar content. Also, fructose converts to glucose, which provides necessary nourishment and fuel for the brain. Fruits can improve muscle and organ function; prevent chronic disease and control obesity and diabetes.

Phytonutrients

Plants are living things, and their genetic material is very complex. Cause-and-effect relationships between fruit consumption and health benefits are often recognized before the mechanics of the connection can be fully explained.

Phytonutrients are chemicals in plants that have potential health benefits. Research shows that phytonutrients, sometimes called “phytochemicals,” can protect against stroke, heart disease and some cancers. Beta-carotene, for example, is a phytonutrient that creates the orange color in carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin.

Blueberries, too, are known to cause dramatic increases in memory and cognitive function. Many red fruits including raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes (yes, the tomato is actually a fruit) have antioxidant effects, meaning they can slow oxidative damage to cells and prevent cancer. Cantaloupes and other melons have similar positive properties. And almost all fruits provide a necessary source of potassium, fiber and vitamin C.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Fruit and vegetable benefits. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/benefits/index.html

Chau, E. (2010). The 8 healthiest fruits you should be eating. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.lhj.com/recipes/healthy/eating/8-healthiest-fruits-you-should-be-eating/?page=9

United States Department of Agriculture. (2009). Why is it important to eat fruit? Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/fruits_why.html