How fruit fits into a healthy diet and how to avoid too much of a good thing.
A lot of you have written to me lately asking questions about fruit: Am I getting enough? Am I getting too much? Am I getting the right kinds? Are some kinds better than others? So, let’s talk about fruit and how it fits into a healthy diet.
Is Fruit Good for You?
Fresh fruit contains lots of good stuff, including fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Nutritionally-speaking, some fruits are a little more turbo-charged than others. Citrus fruit, kiwis, grapes and all types of berries are particularly high in disease-fighting antioxidants, for example. But you can’t go wrong when you go for variety, starting with whatever is in season and local.
How Much Fruit Should You Eat a Day?
In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the USDA recommends that you eat about two cups of fruit a day as a way to help meet your nutritional requirements. And because fruit tends to be sweet and yummy, that’s no hardship for most people. But it is possible to overdo it. Along with all the good stuff, fruit also contains a fair amount sugar, and that’s generally something we want to keep an eye on.
With whole fresh fruit, there are some built-in portion controls. Fresh fruit generally contains a lot of fluid and fiber. According to research by Barbara Rolls, these are the kinds of foods that tend to fill you up on fewer calories. She has developed a whole weight loss strategy built on this concept, which you can read about in her book, Volumetrics.
Obviously, if you’re craving something sweet for an afternoon snack, you’d be a whole lot better off with a juicy piece of fresh fruit than a cinnamon bun. Even if that means an extra serving of fruit, if it helps keep your hand out of the cookie jar, I think you’re way ahead of the game. You just don’t want to use the fact that fruit is natural and healthy as a license to ignore the fact that it is also somewhat high in sugar.
Is Dried Fruit Good for You?
In terms of sugar and calories, you can easily do as much damage with raisins as you can with jelly beans.
In particular, it’s easy to get into trouble with dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots. Many kids—and adults—will eat dried fruit like candy, because it tastes a lot like candy. And there’s a reason for that. When you dehydrate fruit, you concentrate the natural sugars into a much smaller package. You lose those natural portion control factors that I mentioned earlier. And that can lead you to consume a lot more sugar and calories than you mean to.
A cup of grapes, for example, contains about 23 grams of sugar and 104 calories. A cup of raisins, on the other hand, contains 100 grams of sugar and 500 calories. Although the raisins have some fiber and a few vitamins, in terms of sugar and calories, you can easily do as much damage with raisins as you can with jelly beans--especially if your guard is down because you think of raisins as a “healthier” choice.