By Coshandra Dillard
Don’t skimp on fruit. That’s a message from nutrition experts, who note the benefits of fruit. They also underline its contribution to a diet beyond a simple snack.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends five servings daily of fruits and vegetables, with two of those servings reserved for fruit.
Fruit may be considered nature’s dessert – with benefits.
The natural sugars make it palatable, while it provides vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, fiber and plenty of water.
Fruits offer folic acid, or folate, which is instrumental in forming red blood cells. Fruit such as bananas, cantaloupe and prunes are high in potassium, which is helpful in maintaining blood pressure.
Several fruits offer some protein, including dried apricots, prunes and guava.
Scientists also believe the flavonoids in berries may help improve cognitive functions and age-related memory loss.
But nutrition experts caution that as with anything else, portions must be reasonable. Fruit contains a lot of sugar, so eating too much of it could easily rack up in calories. Generally, a serving of fruit is one cup.
“It doesn’t take as much as you think,” said Quinette Cooper, clinic manager at the WIC (Women, Infant and Children) clinic on Broadway Avenue. “Most of us eat more than one cup of grapes but one cup of grapes is a serving. One eight-inch banana is a serving.”
She added, “Most of us eat much, much more than what we should. The general population, if we were to eat the amount of food that we should eat, we probably would not be overweight.”
Using the eyes and hands to measure is more practical than trying to add up grams and ounces. Ms. Cooper said she advises clients to use their palm to measure a serving size.
Patrice Dunagin, family and consumer science agent at Texas Agrilife Extension Service-Smith County, also noted that a handful is a good measure. As for meals, fruit, along with vegetables should be the focus.
“You want at least half of your plate be fruits and vegetables when you’re filing your plate,” she said. “You have to really be conscious about it. Most of us aren’t getting enough of it on our plates.”
Ms. Cooper steers WIC clients toward new ways to get their daily recommendation of two servings of fruit.
“We introduce them to the idea of smoothies when you can, in reality, get one to two servings of your fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Ms. Cooper said WIC offers clients the opportunity to buy fresh fruits at grocery stores and farmers’ markets. As certain fruits can be costly, it is better to purchase them while they are in season.
When considering fruits, people don’t have to stay in the realm of apples and oranges. There are numerous varieties of fruit whether fresh, frozen or canned.
Bananas, papayas and coconuts are in season year-round. Pineapples’ peak season is March through July but they are available year-round. Fall fruits such as cranberries, passion fruit and pears are highlighting grocery stores now. Grapefruit, oranges and kiwi are in season during the winter.
Easy ways to incorporate fruit into the diet
- Morning start. Add to hot or cold cereals.
- Make a green smoothie. Adding frozen or fresh fruit to leafy greens and milk makes a quick, nutritious breakfast or snack.
- Blend it. Pureed fruits have many uses including homemade baby food. It can also be added to homemade baked goods as an alternative for butter or oil.
- Flavor water or tea. Sliced citrus fruits and berries add lots of flavor when infused in water or tea. Eat the chunks of fruit to get the fiber.
- Add to meats. Go beyond lemon with fish or pineapple with ham. All meats pair well with fruit, from apples and peaches to pomegranates and oranges.
- Make it a dessert. Slice or cube and top with Greek yogurt. Also, fruits such as apples, peaches, bananas, pineapples and pears can be grilled, sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with a cream.