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Is Fruit Good For You?

How fruit fits into a healthy diet and how to avoid too much of a good thing.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
Episode #086

Is Fruit Juice Healthy?

People also tend to overestimate the nutritional value of fruit juice. For example, a lot of people think they can improve their kid’s nutrition by giving them fruit juice, like orange juice, instead of soda.  But the truth is that eight ounces of apple juice has approximately the same amount of sugar as eight ounces of ginger ale.  And let’s be frank: most of the nutritional value of the apple is long gone.  The fiber has all been removed. Most of the nutrients are lost in processing. Despite its seemingly wholesome origins, apple juice is really nutritionally equivalent to sugar water.

Food manufacturers have come up with an insidious new twist on this: They’re now pushing fruit-and-vegetable juice blends as ways to get an extra serving or two of vegetables into your family.  I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but nutritionally-speaking, that is a real stretch. Not only are these juice drinks high in sugar and calories, but their nutritional value is pitiful compared to what you’d get from eating a serving of actual vegetables.  All told, I’m not sure it’s a net gain nutritionally.

When it comes to fruit juice, less really is more.  Research shows that people who drink more fruit juice have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, eating more whole fruit decreases your risk.  If I had my way, fruit juice would not be in the “fruit” category of the USDA’s Food Pyramid, but in the sweetened beverage category.

How to Eat Fruit

Here are my quick and dirty tips on how to eat fruit.
 

  1. Aim for about 2 cups of fruit a day.  This, by the way, is the same as the recommendation you sometimes hear to eat 4 servings of fruit a day—that’s based on ½ cup servings.  This guideline is for an average-sized person, eating about 2,000 calories a day. If you’re on the small side or you need to watch your calories, cut back to 1 or 1 ½ cups a day. If you’re large (but not overweight) or you’re very active, you may be able to increase it to 3 cups a day.   A cup is about the size of your fist.  An average-size apple, orange, or banana would count as a cup.  For apricots or plums, two would count as a cup. 

  2. For maximum nutrition and health, fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit is your best choice.  Processed fruits like fruit cocktail or applesauce aren’t as nutritious and often contain added sugars. Fruit juice is also generally lower in vitamins and lacking the fiber of whole fruit. 

  3. Go for variety.  Because different types of fruits feature different nutrient profiles, your best bet is to eat a wide variety of fruit.  Always start with whatever is local and in season where you live.

  4. Watch the portion sizes on dried fruit.   Portion sizes are different for dried fruit than for fresh fruit. A quarter cup of raisins or a third of a cup of dried apricots, prunes, or apple slices is equal to one cup of fresh fruit.

  5. Eat fruit instead of sweets.  Most diet plans include a small number of discretionary calories. It’s often about 10% of your total calories. So, if you eat about 2,000 calories a day, you get 200 or so to spend on whatever you want.  You can spend it on a chocolate chip cookie or a glass of wine.  Or, if you like, you can spend those discretionary calories on another serving or two of fruit or fruit juice.

Fruit should always be washed properly to reduce the risk of soil, bacteria, and pesticide residues.  I have a great Quick Tip that will help you do just that cheaply and effectively.

See the links below to some other articles I’ve written on this topic.  I also have a handy Quick Tip on freezing your summer fruits so you can enjoy delicious smoothies in the winter; you can find it right here.

For information on how you can support the local foods movement and locate a farmers' market near you, please click here.

This is Monica Reinagel, reminding you that these tips are provided for your information and entertainment but they are not intended as medical advice. You can also post comments and questions on today’s episode below or on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page or on Twitter.   I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!

Further Reading:

Are Vegetables Better Than Fruit?

Juice and Diabetes Risk

How Healthy is 100% fruit juice, really?

Fruit image courtesy of Shutterstock
 

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