With summer upon us, there is now an abundant amount of summer fruits available. Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and watermelons are only some of the tasty fruits unique to the summer season.
Fruits play a very important role as an integral and healthy aspect to our overall diet. We know that people who eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables substantially reduce their risk of many diseases. Fruits provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of your body.
The Nutrition in Fruit
The United States government sponsored site, “My Plate,” does an excellent job in describing the nutritional benefits of eating fruit:
- Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. None have cholesterol.
- Fruits are sources of many essential nutrients that are generally under consumed, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid).
- Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Fruits that are sources of potassium include bananas, prunes and prune juice, dried peaches and apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and orange juice.
- Dietary fiber from fruits, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods, such as fruit, help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Whole or cut-up fruits are sources of dietary fiber; fruit juices contain little or no fiber.
- Vitamin C is important for growth and repair of all body tissues. It helps heal cuts and wounds, and keeps teeth and gums healthy.
- Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Pregnant women should consume adequate folate from foods, and, in addition, 400 mcg of synthetic folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.
Health Benefits from Fruit
It is easy to see that you can get all of these important nutrients from tasty choices. “My Plate” also tells us some of the great health benefits of eating fruits on a daily basis:
- Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
- Eating a diet rich in some vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may protect against certain types of cancers.
- Diets rich in foods containing fiber, such as some vegetables and fruits, may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
- Eating vegetables and fruits rich in potassium as part of an overall healthy diet may lower blood pressure, and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss.
- Eating fruits instead of higher-calorie foods may be useful in helping to lower calorie intake.
Preventing Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes
The vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in fruit may help keep your heart healthy so you can reduce your risk of problems as you get older. Walter Willett reports in his book, Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Eating Healthy, that individuals who eat five servings of fruits or vegetables a day are 15% less likely to have a heart attack. Fruit may also promote the healthy circulation of your blood, which reduces your risk of heart disease. Willett adds that citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, may be particularly beneficial for reducing your risk of heart disease. It can also cut your risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes affects many people and is characterized by an inability to use insulin the proper way with insulin resistance or not being able to produce enough insulin. Type 2 diabetes can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated. A 2016 review article published in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation found that fruit, especially berries, was linked to a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Fruit contains fiber, which can improve how your body uses insulin. It can also make you feel full, which can keep you from eating unhealthy foods and may result in weight loss. Fruit contains many different nutrients that your body needs to maintain your health and eating several servings a day may cut your risk by providing you with the vitamins and minerals you need.
Selection and Storage of Fruits
- Choose in-season fruits. The closer you are to where they were grown, the fresher your produce will be and the better it will taste.
- Select fruits that feel heavy for their size. Heaviness is a good sign of juiciness.
- Smell fruits for characteristic aromas. Fruits should generally have their characteristic ripe scent but not smell overly ripe. For example, melons, both orange and green, shouldn’t smell too musty, especially if you don’t plan to eat it right away.
- Test texture. An apple that feels mushy to the touch probably is too ripe. However, an avocado with a somewhat spongy texture is ideal.
- Buy dried fruits processed without added sugar. Dried fruits are a concentrated source of dietary fiber but are also higher in calories than fresh fruits. Use dried fruits sparingly and buy ones that don’t contain added sugar.
- Read the labels on packaged fruits. Look for frozen fruits processed without added sugar. Choose fruit canned in water or fruit juice. Avoid fruits preserved in sugar-sweetened syrup, which is a source of calories without nutrients.
- Keep fruits in your refrigerator after you wash and prepare them for eating. Refrigerate sliced fruits or sections of fruit. Don’t store melons in the refrigerator until they are cut up.
- Throw away produce you have kept too long. Discard fruit that is moldy or slimy, smells bad, or is past the “best by” date.
What a Melon!
Personally, I love watermelon. I look forward to watermelon season and I use it for dessert most of the time for my Shabbat day meal. This past Shabbat, as I cut open a watermelon, I saw by the color that we had a winner and we all agreed it was the best one so far this season. Not only do they taste good, but watermelons are mostly water — about 92% — and full of nutrients. Each juicy bite has significant levels of vitamins A, B6, and C, lots of lycopene, antioxidants, and amino acids. There’s even a modest amount of potassium. Plus, this tasty summer snack is fat-free, very low in sodium, and has only 40 calories per cup.
A Word of Caution
Fruits are high in natural sugars, so try to keep it to about 4 per day and spread them out throughout the day—don’t eat them in one sitting. Including fruits as a part of a good healthy and balanced diet will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.