Haims: What you may not know about the benefits of fruit

It’s widely known and accepted that fruit has a variety of health benefits. Over the past decade, researchers have found undeniable evidence that diets and lifestyles that incorporate fruit may lower the occurrence of diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and even depression.

Unfortunately, the benefits of fruit consumption are often criticized by those who believe that the sugar content within fruit cancels out nutritional value. While it is true that some fruits have higher sugar content than others, the fact of the matter is that the amount of sugar found in fruits is not near an amount that it would be of concern. Further, the sugar in fruit is a natural sugar called fructose and is quite different from added sugars and artificial sugars contained in processed foods.

Unlike added sugars, the natural fructose in fruit contains fiber, which may help slow the digestion of sugar and fat from food. Because fructose doesn’t immediately cause blood sugar (insulin) to spike as quickly, it may be preferable for many people. Fruits like blueberries, kiwi, peaches, nectarines and strawberries have some of the lowest sugar content.

Furthermore, many fruits may help with inflammation and gut bacteria due to their phytonutrients and antioxidants. According to the Journal of Agriculture and Food Research, “Phytochemicals, an important part of the human diet, can influence the ratio of the gut microbiota by promoting the growth and reproduction of beneficial microbiota while inhibiting the growth and reproduction of pathogenic microbiota.” Harvard Health has reported that strawberries, blackberries, cranberries and blue­berries are particularly potent in anti-inflammatory activity and antioxidants.

Fruits such as cranberries, red grapes, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, pears, oranges, cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya, chokeberries, elderberries and tomatoes are all high in antioxidants. Antioxidants remove free radicals from the body, which damage cells and may often lead to serious illness.

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Some fruits may assist with weight loss and others may be beneficial for those with diabetes concerns. Because many fruits are high in fiber and water content, but also low in calories, eating them may assist in feeling satiated. Fruits that may assist with weight loss include cantaloupe, peaches, watermelon, berries and papaya.

People with diabetes should consume the same recommended number of servings per day as people without diabetes — around 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit every day. However, there are some fruits better than others as they have a low glycemic index. Some of the fruits with low GI ratings include apples, avocados, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe and tangerines. Fruits with high GI levels include dried fruits like dried pineapple, dried bananas, raisins, dried figs and dried pears. Fresh fruits with high GI levels are mangos, bananas, black grapes, dates and plantains.

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A study conducted by research scientist, Maryam S Farvid of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health followed a Nurses’ Health Study II cohort of 90,476 premenopausal women for 22 years and found that those who ate the most fruit during adolescence (about three servings a day) compared with those who ate the lowest intakes (0.5 servings a day) had a 25% lower risk of developing breast cancer.

Consumption of fruits, along with vegetables, may be a great way to improve one’s health and make for a better diet and lifestyle. 

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. 

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