Fruits Demystified

Miles Kingston once said, “knowledge is knowing a tomato is fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, fruits are the edible portion of the plant that develops from a flower and has seeds. Fruits provide a variety of health benefits such as antioxidants and potential anti-cancer properties. Some of the nutrients that fruits have are fiber, vitamin A, and potassium.  By this definition apples, cucumber, tomatoes, and avocados are all considered fruits. Vegetables are the edible portion of plants such as leaves, stems, bulbs, and roots. Carrots, corn, and celery are all considered vegetables. Vegetables typically have fewer calories and more fiber than fruits. Fruits have a stronger antioxidant profile and have a higher content of natural sugars than vegetables. For instance, these differences can be seen when comparing apples and broccoli. One cup of apples contains 65 calories and 13 grams of sugar as compared to a cup of broccoli that has 31 calories and 2 grams of sugar.  The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines suggest that adults aged 19-59 should eat within the range of 1.5-2.5  cups daily. At least half of the target range should come from whole fruits rather than 100% fruit juice alone. Fruit juice can provide a more concentrated dose of vitamins, minerals, and sugars, but not the fiber and other health benefits. 

The nutritional content in both fresh and frozen produce is actually the same initially. Many consumers believe that fresh produce is always best. The carbohydrate, protein, fiber, and mineral content are similar between fresh and frozen. What most don’t know is that fresh produce can lose half of its vitamins and phytonutrients during storage after a few days have passed. Frozen fruit is typically flash-frozen at peak ripeness so more nutrients are locked in during the freezing process. Fresh is ideal, especially if you eat it soon after it is picked. They are best when quickly making purees. Ultimately, consumers should be open to frozen produce, since they are healthy and require little preparation - the washing and slicing are already done. They are also a versatile option since you can easily make smoothies in a blender, or throw them in a skillet with extra virgin olive oil for stir fry. You can use part of the bag and keep the rest for later use without the produce spoiling. One cup of 100% juice counts as a serving of fruit, only 100% juice usually does not contain any beneficial fiber.

We can also consume fruit dried as a great snack! It’s non-perishable, easy to take on the go, and it contains more fiber and antioxidants per ounce than fresh fruit. Taking out the water from fruit concentrates the nutrients and calories. However, because dried fruit is so much smaller than fresh fruit, it’s easier to consume a lot more without realizing it. For example, one cup of average-sized grapes is about 100 calories while a cup of raisins has approximately 430 calories. Additionally, check the nutrition label and choose dried fruits with 0g of added sugar – we don’t pour sugar on our fresh fruit so why do it to dried fruit? Dried fruit can be added to trail mix, oatmeal, yogurt, and even salads!

 Canned fruit is another excellent way to enjoy seasonal fruit all year round. Fruits (and vegetables) are canned shortly after picking at peak freshness, but keep in mind that the high heat used during processing can kill off vitamins C and B. Choose water-packed canned fruit as opposed to heavy syrup-, light syrup-, and fruit juice-packed options that can tack on up to 20 grams of added sugar per serving of fruit. As a reminder, the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugar to less than 50g (on a 2000-calorie diet). It’s also important to avoid cans with dents, bulges, cracks, or leaks as it may be a sign of bacteria.

Fruits in their various forms provide a great number of vitamins, minerals, and other health benefits. Fresh, canned, frozen, or dried varieties can meet the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines. They can be easily added to salads, stir-fries, or raw as a snack on the go. Regardless of the form you choose, fruits play an important role in overall health.