Many people have developed a fear of fruit (“It has so much sugar!”) while others arguably eat too much of it, often to the exclusion of vegetables.
There was a time when we didn’t question whether fruit was good for us. Today, many people have developed a fear of fruit (“It has so much sugar!”), while others arguably eat too much of it, often to the exclusion of vegetables.
It’s true that fruit contains a fair amount of sugar, but it’s natural sugar, wrapped in a fiber-rich, water-rich, nutrient-rich package. Fruit is the most healthful sweet around. We naturally like the taste of sweet because we were literally born with an affinity for it.
Fruit has a unique position in a healthful diet. In terms of nutrients, it’s more like a vegetable. In terms of carbohydrate content, it’s more like a grain (or a starchy vegetable). Many dietitians groaned when Weight Watchers decided to make fruit a “free food.”
From a nutrient standpoint, many fruits are rich in not just vitamins and minerals, but also phytonutrients (phytochemicals). Pigment-rich berries and cherries, which are deliciously in season locally, are especially good sources.
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Roughly speaking, one slice of bread or 1/3 cup of cooked grain has the same amount of carbohydrate as half a large banana or 12 cherries. If you find that you are hungry soon after eating a supposedly healthful breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, the reason is likely that it’s carbohydrate rich, but low in protein.
So how much fruit should you be eating? As always, that depends. Generally speaking, people who have physically demanding jobs or participate in intense physical activity have higher carbohydrate needs, and fruit is a carbohydrate-rich food. People who sit at a desk most of the day and generally get little physical activity need less carbohydrate, and therefore less fruit.
From a carbohydrate point of view, fruit is a more nutritious choice than refined grains, but it’s no substitute for non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and dark leafy greens. I often hear, “I’m not crazy about vegetables, but I eat lots of fruit!” I also see people struggling to overcome severe sugar cravings who start eating excessive amounts of fruit.
A balanced meal or snack includes foods rich in carbohydrates, protein and healthful fats to slow digestion enough to facilitate a nice, gentle rise and fall in blood-sugar levels.
Here are some examples of wonderfully healthful ways to put fruit in your day:
• Breakfast: Scrambled eggs or tofu (with veggies) and a side of fruit or plain Greek yogurt with berries and nuts.
• Lunch: Tossed green salad with protein (chicken, fish, beef), healthful fat (nuts, seeds, avocado) olive-oil vinaigrette and a side of fruit.
• Dinner: Fruit for dessert
• Snack: An apple with a small handful of nuts or a small piece of cheese, a serving of banana with nut butter, a half cup of plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with berries.