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Fabulous fruit

Are you eating enough?

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Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2014

It is my theory that fruit is the perfect antidote to the rich food and excesses of the recent holiday season.

If you are like so many of us who vow to do a better job of eating healthy at this time of year, make sure to include good old fruit as part of the plan. You'll feel better for it. 

There are two main reasons why I believe fruit is the perfect antidote.

First, whole fruit is a critical part of the diet. It provides necessary nutrients that are hard to get in sufficient quantities in other foods, and there are properties of fruit that can protect us from disease. This is the side of the equation about what we eat.

Second, people who increase their fruit intake or who regularly eat fruit often substitute it for other foods that are not healthful and not protective. This is the other side of the equation about what we don't eat.

Whole fruit in all its forms - fresh, frozen and canned - contain many nutrients that are hard to get elsewhere, including antioxidants, which help fight cancer; potassium, which can help keep your blood pressure in check; vitamin C, which promotes cardiovascular and eye health, as well as healthy bones and skin; fibre, which can help reduce cholesterol; and folate, which supports the production of red blood cells.

The health benefits are well documented. The Canadian Cancer Society states that about one-third of all cancers can be prevented by eating well, being active and maintaining a healthy body weight. The antioxidant property of whole fruit is an important part of the diet that can protect us. The inclusion of whole fruit in the diets of people who are using food as medicine to treat hypertension is necessary to provide the potassium and limit the sodium (salt) to get blood pressure lowering results. Some recent studies have also found that consumption of whole fruit is associated with a reduction in the risk for Type 2 diabetes.

The descriptor "whole" is very important in our conversation about the benefit of fruit to health and well-being. Whole fruit promotes satiety or feelings of fullness and it contains soluable fibre, which is important to heart health. Beware of what I call "fake fruit." It comes as highly processed foods, such as gummies, leathers, and beverages such as "punch" or "drink." Most of these products would not qualify as a serving of fruit.

Fruit is a perfect convenience food - wash and go. Tuck an apple into your bag and you have a snack for the late part of the day when hunger and fatigue set in. Use fruit as a perfectly sweet way to finish a meal, and think about fruit as the base of special occasion desserts, too. A fruit crisp or flan is a great way to include fruit in more formal meals.

How much is enough? Adults should aim for seven to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables combined on most days, and school-aged kids should have about five to six of both fruit and vegetables.

Of whole fruit alone, including it at two meals and one snack is a good way to plan for enough. It sounds like a lot to many people, but remember that the portion size for one serving is only a ½ cup. It would only take a half a grapefruit at breakfast (or a convenient cup of grapefruit sections), a small container of grapes with lunch and an apple on the way home from work or school to get you there. What else could provide the health- promoting punch of fruit, or be more convenient or more delicious?

Colleen Einarson Rand is a registered dietitian and Manager of Clinical Nutrition Community for the Winnipeg Health Region.

 

Hardest-working fruit

Apples

Apples have lots of soluble (for heart health) and insoluble (for bowel health) fibre, and can clean teeth and leave breath relatively fresh. They don't need to be kept in the fridge, store well for a long time, are easy to pack, and can be eaten on the go with no mess. Apples are generally affordable and come in a variety in flavours and textures. They can also be added to plenty of recipes.

Mangoes

A good source of vitamin C, beta carotene* and potassium, as are most fruit that have orange flesh. One serving contributes to daily fibre requirements. Also consider cantaloupe, peaches, nectarines and the more exotic papaya. They are available year round fresh, frozen and canned, and make a great addition to any meal or snack.

Blueberries

They are full of antioxidants, which help to prevent disease.  They also have anti-aging properties (in particular for dementia). Manitoba has a robust wild blueberry crop. They are flavourful and easy to incorporate as a daily snack, fresh or frozen.

Pineapples

With natural anti-inflammatory qualities and amazing flavour, it can be added to a ton of recipes (pizza, salad, meat entrees). Fresh (not canned) pineapple contains a natural meat-tenderizing compound and is often called for in marinade recipes.

Avocadoes

An excellent substitute for butter, with nice healthy fats (monounsaturated), loaded with vitamin A (for eye health and night vision) and amazing colour! Avocados are the central ingredient in guacamole and they add interest sliced on a sandwich or cut up into a salad.

 

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