You have heard that the Average American does not get enough fruits or vegetables in their diet. But that’s not you.
You like fruit. It’s healthy. It tastes good. You drink fruit juice, use it as cereal toppings, eat desserts with fruit in them, and eat fruits whole.
You feel great. You are eating healthy.
Or are you?
The government says you’re doing it right. But you just saw a recommendation that you should be eating less fruit. The author is a highly qualified expert.
Is the government behind the ball? Is the expert being too extreme? Or is there something you are missing?
Evaluating the evaluator
Government is influenced by mega-companies. They echo the most popular research, which is not always the most recent. They won’t recommend the best options if they think they are too hard for the average person. They wait for consensus, so they are always behind the times.
Gurus ride the tide of fads, based on an original idea carried to an extreme. The original idea is often based on research. The gurus expand it until it is easy and pleasant to do. The implications are not based on research. They are often far away from the original idea.
The true experts have research to back them up. They either do the research or they can tell you about the research. For everything they say.
If you see a conflict, is it from a big drug or food company? Is it just from extrapolation? Or has somebody done the research to support what they are saying?
Why Fruit Isn’t as Healthy as it’s Cracked Up to Be
So what does the research tell us about fruit?
- Fruit has healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals
- Fruit can prevent or cure some diseases like scurvy
- Whole fruit is better for you than fruit juice
- Healthy fiber is left behind in fruit pulp and peel
But there is one big downside in most fruit: fructose (fruit sugar).
Fructose doesn’t go directly into most cells of your body. It goes straight to the liver to be processed. That means:
- it turns into uric acid (which can cause gout)
- it depletes ATP (so less energy for your cells)
- it stresses mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells)
- it increases body fat (without increasing calorie intake)
- it stresses your heart
New targets for a healthy diet
But we don’t want to just stop eating fruit. Besides the healthy nutrition, it can help us fill our sweet tooth without indulging in unhealthy candy, cake, or cookies.
Fructose is higher in fruit juice than in whole fruit. Some fruits have lower fructose than others do.
So we need to look for sweet tasting healthy food with the maximum value per bite. That means:
Fruit with lower fructose
Berries shine here. Blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, especially. Apricots, nectarines, and peaches are also low-fructose fruits. If you like something a little more unusual, try guavas. And pineapple, even though it is very sweet, is low in fructose, as long as you eat the fruit, rather than drinking the juice.
Fruit with higher fiber
Raspberries and guavas shine here, also. Strawberries and bananas are also high in fiber.
Fruit as toppings
Especially on cereal or pancakes. The secret here is fresh fruit. When fruit is dried, like raisins, it concentrates the sugars so you get a lot more fructose per mouthful. To make things worse, some dried fruits, such as cranberries, are coated with sugar. So stick with fresh fruit here, especially any of the ones we just talked about.
Mixing a sweet veggie with a sweet fruit will give you maximum sweet taste with less fructose per bite. Carrots are a natural here. So are yams (the ones with orange flesh, not the sweet potatoes with yellow flesh).
The average fruit smoothie has fruit, sugar, and ice, and maybe some fruit juice. Yummy but not as healthy as it sounds.
Here’s a basic smoothie recipe that will give you the complete daily recommended fruit and veggie requirements, all in one large smoothie. (You can vary this with different fruits and veggies, and different amounts of liquid to match your own tastes.)
To make this smoothie, you need a premium blender, like Vitamix or Blendtec. Otherwise the ingredients aren’t chopped fine enough — too gritty for my taste.
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup rice milk (or other liquid of your choice)
- 1 cup mini carrots
- 1 cup frozen strawberries
- 1.5 cups kale, torn in pieces
- 1/2 tsp stevia
Add all ingredients except rice milk to the container, in the same order as in the ingredient list. Blend on low at first, then gradually increase the speed to high for about 2 minutes. If it is foamy on top, you can pulse it once or twice to mix in the foam (unless you like it that way).
- Substitute other green veggies of your choice (spinach, chard, etc.) for the kale.
- Increase greens and decrease carrots, or vice versa
- Add even more greens to the basic recipe (and increase liquids, 1/4 cup liquid per cup solids).
- Substitute any low fructose/high fiber fruit for the strawberries— just pop the fruit in your freezer the night before.
- For a colder, thicker smoothie, add 4 or more ice cubes.
Fruit with veggie recipes
Your basic carrot, raisin, and pineapple salad is a star here. Raisins are high in fructose, but you can substitute craisins (dried cranberries — which have sugar added, but not fructose).
Carrot, craisin, and pineapple salad
- 3 10 oz bags shredded carrots
- 1/4 cup craisins
- 1 8 oz can crushed pineapple
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
Drain crushed pineapple and reserve the juice. Mix shredded carrots, craisins, and crushed pineapple. Gradually add pineapple juice to mayonnaise until it is a creamy consistency. Combine with the other ingredients. Add additional pineapple juice if necessary.
Vegetarian and vegan recipes can give you more ideas. Allrecipes.com is one good source that compiles recipes from many other sites.
Fruit as desserts
Fruit alone can be a dessert, especially if your sweet tooth has been toned down. It can be used as a topping for ice cream, or for the fruit part of an upside down cake. Healthy fruit pies are available in some restaurants, using fresh fruit that is lightly glazed, then placed in a pastry shell. These are usually peach or strawberry pies, when that fruit is in season.
Restaurants and juice bars
Check your local juice bars to see if they include options featuring the low-fructose fruits featured here. If they are not part of a chain, they may be willing to add more, especially if it is a way to promote their store.
Encourage your favorite restaurants to feature fruit that is not overcooked or drenched in sugar or syrup. Check out vegetarian restaurants that emphasize fresh, local ingredients. Ask for fruit as a substitute for less healthy items, such as hash browns.
Putting it all together
You now have a better idea of what fruits are truly healthy. You have discovered what forms of fruit are the best ones to use. You have seen hints on how to ferret out new fruit recipes, and what to look for when exploring new restaurants.
Change your views on dessert, and you can still have healthy sweets in your life. A few tweaks to your diet and you will back in sync with the latest advice.
You can still drink fruit — in the form of smoothies.
You can still have fruit on your cereal — when you choose healthier ones.
You can still indulge in healthy sweet tastes — and explore ways to use sweet veggies.
New recipes and new restaurants are out there to help. Time to go exploring and find your favorite fruit fare.