When it comes to the food pyramid, fruits and vegetables ideally take up a significant percentage of our daily diet requirements to ensure that we get the maximum nutrients that our bodies need. In fact, scientific experts and nutritionists recommend that about 30% of our daily diet consists of fruits for better nutrient intake. MyPlate.gov even goes as far as saying half of our plates should consist of vegetables and fruits. This isn’t surprising because not only do fruits provide considerable levels of vitamins and minerals, but they also provide diet components that help facilitate better digestion and overall optimal body functions. In this article, we’ll talk about some crucial information about these impressive foods, including what health benefits fruits provide and when fruits are the healthiest.
- 1 What Are the Benefits of Fruits?
- 2 When Are Fruits the Healthiest and Most Nutrient-Dense?
What Are the Benefits of Fruits?
With fruits taking up a significant percentage of our daily diets, you might be wondering what exactly they offer and why they’re considered crucial for our overall well-being. On a daily basis, people eat food to not only sate hunger but to also provide our bodies with the essential nutrients we need for optimal health. Our organs and systems require certain amounts of vitamins and minerals to function optimally and allow our bodies to function.
However, because of the deterioration of our diets – thanks to the abundance of fast food and junk food on the market today – not a lot of people get the required nutrient levels, which then makes them at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Chances are if you’re a fan of junk food, you may have vitamin storages that are not getting refilled with your daily meals. If you’re still on the fence about starting to eat healthily, take this article as a sign that it’s probably time to switch to eating fruits. Here are just a few health benefits that you can get in general if you add these healthy options to your daily meals:
1. Gives you enough fiber for better digestion.
Fiber is one of the most important food components that can help facilitate better digestion. If you’re suffering from either constipation or loose bowel, fiber can help by either making your stool easier to pass or bulking up your stool respectively. Not only can fruits help relieve constipation and other digestive ailments, but they can also lower your chances of developing gastrointestinal cancer due to its protective effects.
One great example of a fiber-rich fruit is the banana, which has been touted as “nature’s wonder fruit.” Because of its high fiber content, it’s considered the perfect antacid, coating the stomach, and preventing stomach ulcers.
2. Reinforces your immune system.
Your immune system works as your first line of defense against toxins, bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that can cause significant damage to your body. Because fruits contain significant levels of vitamins and minerals that strengthen the immune system and lower the chances of you developing illnesses and infections. Some of the most important vitamins that you can use to boost immune function include vitamins A, C, and E.
For example, oranges contain high levels of carotenoids and beta carotene, which are both precursors of vitamin A. Due to the health components of oranges, adding this fruit to your diet can help you prevent colds and even cancer. Other examples of fruits that can help you improve your immunity include mangoes and apples.
3. Gets rid of free radicals in the body.
Fruits offer high levels of antioxidants, which help get rid of free radicals. These free radicals, also known as oxidants, are often seen as the culprit for some of the most serious diseases in human medicine – including atherosclerosis, cancer, and degenerative diseases. Two of the most well-known antioxidants in the human diet include vitamin A and vitamin C. This makes fruits an effective way to prevent cancer and other diseases caused by free radicals.
Vitamin A fights free radicals at the cellular level, allowing the skin and mucous membranes to use vitamin A to stop viruses and bacteria from entering the body. Vitamin C, on the other hand, stops free radicals from causing inflammation and swelling, which can effectively inhibit the symptoms of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Examples of fruits that are rich in both of these vitamins include oranges, strawberries, mangoes, and papaya.
4. May help prevent some of the most prevalent illnesses.
Chronic diseases are prevalent in medicine today, such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Fortunately, fruits can help prevent the development of chronic illnesses thanks to the cocktail of vitamins they provide. A 2012 study from the European Journal of Nutrition stated that optimizing your diet to include both vegetables and fruits can lower your risk of developing pulmonary disease, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and dementia.
For example, bananas contain high levels of potassium, making them extremely beneficial for patients who have heart disease and high blood pressure. This is because potassium plays a significant role in the body’s cardiovascular functions – directly facilitating your heartbeat and blood pumping. In addition to this example, oranges also offer great benefits against chronic diseases thanks to their ability to stop inflammation. Inflammation is often at the root of many chronic diseases, and orange’s vitamin C content, it can effectively relieve inflammation and stop it from wreaking havoc in your body.
5. May help facilitate weight loss and fat burning.
With more than 1.9 billion adults in the world suffering from obesity, weight loss and fat burning have become one of the most popular topics both offline and online. But aside from the weight-loss regimens and diets that have been promoted worldwide, adding fruits to your diet also offers weight loss benefits thanks to their rich fiber content that offers better satiety and low caloric levels. Some fruits also contain high water levels, which can help you stay full longer and suppress your appetite.
When Are Fruits the Healthiest and Most Nutrient-Dense?
Do you enjoy pulling out packs of fruits from your fridge and munching on them for a healthy snack? If you do, it might have crossed your mind whether the vitamins and minerals contained in the fruits remain consistent all throughout their shelf life. Actually, while some nutrients in fruits remain stable, there are actually sweet spots when you can get more nutrients from the fruits you eat.
According to Karen Ansel, a nationally recognized dietitian and nutritionist, “Fruits are at their peak nutrition when they come off the tree or vine.” But once the fruit is picked or harvested, the nutrition starts to deteriorate – and if it travels in a truck or sits on the store shelves for days, it’s basically going downhill from there.
Luckily, a lot of the vitamins and minerals that you get from fruit don’t change significantly over time, says Gina Keatley, a certified dietitian-nutritionist practicing in New York City. She lists elements like potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and copper among those, as well as the antioxidant capacity of the fruit.
The biggest potential issue for fruit over time, however, is the sugar content. While Ansel stresses that you should probably worry more about the sugar you’re getting from other sources as opposed to your fruit, the ripening process does impact fruits’ sugar content and even some other nutrients.
To help you determine when the best time to eat some of the healthiest and most common fruits out there, here’s a quick guide:
Bananas are the most nutritious before they start getting brown spots on their skin. Since bananas are high in starch, their sugar content can significantly increase as it ripens. While it will contain almost the same amount of carbohydrates, it will contain higher amounts of fructose – which wouldn’t be a great idea if you’re trying to monitor your blood sugar.
One benefit of eating a banana before it reaches the spotting phase: It contains resistant starch, which slows down digestion, can keep you feeling fuller longer, and can help you absorb fewer calories. “The less ripe it is, the more resistant starch it has,” says Ansel. However, this doesn’t mean that you should eat green bananas because not only can they cause stomach pain, but they’re also not that palatable to begin with.
The best time to eat berries is before they’re too mushy. Berries are higher in starch off the vine because of their lower sugar content at the time, says registered dietitian-nutritionist Sonya Angelone, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If you want to get fewer calories from them, you would eat them when they’re green,” she says, “but it wouldn’t taste as good.”
The increase in sugar levels in berries is more pronounced as they get smaller, says Keatley, so blueberries may increase in sugar by 150 percent to 200 percent from when they’re picked to when they rot.
Apples are the best when they’re still crisp and tart. Just like with berries, apples increase in sugar and slightly decrease in nutrients as they ripen, says Keatley. “The best time to eat them would be just as they start to ripen, but the change is so slight it is more important that you eat it when it tastes best,” she says.
How can you tell with apples? Ones that are less ripe will taste tart, says Angelone, adding that apple varieties that are created to be tart also contain less sugar.
While the healthiest fruits offer the highest nutrient density when they’re freshly picked off the tree, most people – especially in the Metro – do not have direct access to fruit trees. Fret not because frozen fruits may be the next best thing for your daily serving of fruits. According to Ansel, frozen fruits contain “surprisingly high” levels of nutrients because they’re locked in early on, soon after the fruit is picked. “Sometimes, you might actually be better off with something that’s frozen rather than fresh,” she says.