If you haven’t noticed, spring has sprung! In addition to crocus and daffodils, we’ll have a new crop of fruit to explore and enjoy in local markets now. While citrus fruit may still be in season in some parts of the country until the end of April, it’s almost time to embrace berries, grapes and melon. This is the second part of our series to help support the My Plate Simple Campaign, which offers easy, lifelong tips to consumers to explore foods from each food group.1
There seems to be some consumer confusion around fruit. While dietitians recognize that fruit contains natural sugar, the proliferation of low carb, “anti-sugar” fad diets has given fruit a bad name.
Fruit is made up of sucrose, glucose and fructose, which are naturally occurring sugars. In addition to carbohydrate, fruit contains fiber, vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium and other nutrients.
Added or refined sugar from soft drinks, sports drinks, candy, ice cream and high calorie desserts is what should be limited in our diets. These types of sugars are associated with obesity and heart disease and should make up less than 10% of total calories.2 For the average 2000 calorie diet, 200 calories may come from added sugars, or 50 grams per day or less. This is equivalent to roughly one, 12 oz. regular soda or one regular sized candy bar. Of course, there are hidden sugars in packaged foods like crackers, frozen meals, canned goods and sauces as well. Fruit juice may contain added sugar, so it’s best to purchase 100% fruit juice or eat whole fruit instead.
Fruit can be incorporated into our diets in several ways. One of the benefits of adding fruit at breakfast is that the vitamin C from citrus fruit, melon or berries makes iron from fortified breads and cereals, more bioavailable and absorbed. This is important for women, children, vegetarians and vegans, who may have increased iron needs or do not obtain enough in their diets.3 Fresh, canned or frozen fruit goes well with yogurt or in smoothies, while dried fruit is great to add to oatmeal, muesli, granola or dry cereal.
Fruit makes a convenient, portable snack for kids and adults on the go. It can be paired with a cheese stick, nut butter or a handful of mixed nuts or seeds. Grapes, apples or citrus fruit are great to take when traveling as is dried fruit. Dried fruit is handy to add to trail mix and does not require refrigeration.
Other ways to increase fruit consumption include adding apples, pears or grapes to tossed salads or using chopped fruit in compotes or sauces over fish, pork or chicken. They are delicious when paired with spices such as cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg. Tropical fruits like pineapple, mango and melon go well with fresh herbs like basil or cilantro.
Don’t forget about cooking fruit! Baked apples or pears with cinnamon and pecans make a simple dessert or over-ripe bananas are great for banana bread, cake or pudding. No matter how you slice it, a variety of fruit should be added to our diets regularly. Here are a few more ideas:
- Add chopped apricots, dates or prunes to energy bites or granola
- Cut grapes in half and add to chicken or tuna salad
- Use bruised apples in apple sauce or apple butter
- Include kiwi, strawberries or pomegranate in salad
- Use mashed berries, kiwi or pears in a compote
- James M. Rippe1,2,*and Theodore J. Angelopoulos3 Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding. Nutrients. 2016 Nov; 8(11): 697.
Submitted by Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD