The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines suggest that Americans should eat about two cups of fruit (that's the equivalent of a large banana and half of a large apple) in their daily diet. However, Malina Malkani, RDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of Solve Picky Eating, says there's a very real reason many of us are confused about the nutritional fortitude of fruit: It stems (pardon the pun) from the widespread demonizing of sugar.
"Sugar gets a bad rap, in part because added sugars are often excessively present in processed foods, and it’s easy to get confused because fruit does contain sugar," says Malkani. "But the nutrient profiles of fruits—which include naturally- occurring sugars that provide energy and are accompanied by vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber—are keenly different than the refined sugars added to processed foods to increase their palatability and shelf life."
For more info on sugar—the good, bad, and the ugly—check out this video with intel from a top RD:
What nutrients does fruit contain?
Now that the issue of fruit sugar is cleared up, it's important to know the other reasons why eating fruit every day can benefit health. While the exact nutrient breakdown of fruit varies depending on what exactly you're consuming, there are some nutrients all fruit has in common. That includes:
Antioxidants also help protect against inflammation because they fight free radical damage, which comes about during exercise and exposure to sunlight and pollution, among other situations. And fruit is abundant in these protective compounds.
3. Vitamin C
All fruits contain at least a little vitamin C and some—like citrus fruits, tomatoes, pineapples, and berries—are straight up full of it. Vitamin C is crucial for keeping the immune system on point and also keeps skin looking vibrant.
The vast majority of fruits contain potassium, which helps keep sodium levels in the body balanced, plays a role in digesting carbs, and could protect against cardiovascular disease. The body literally can't function without potassium. Oranges, banana, apricots, and cantaloupe are all great sources of this nutrient.
Okay, so fruit is pretty great. However, there are some compelling digestive reasons not to eat the whole pineapple (I learned this the hard way). Below, Malkani and other dietitians talk about how much fruit is too much. But can you eat too much of it?
Can you eat too much fruit?
The simple answer is: "Yes, it’s possible to eat too much of any food—including fruit," says Malkani. The fruitarian diet is an eating plan that consists of a full 55 to 75 percent fruit. This type of eating has not been scientifically studied, but experts emphasize that eating this way can lead to malnutrition. Why? It lacks balance. The truth is, you can't get all the nutrients the body needs just from fruit alone. This type of eating is also super restrictive, which can lead to forms of disordered eating.
Malkani confirms that this way of eating can lead to some very unpleasant repercussions. "Risks associated with excess fruit intake include stomach discomfort, diarrhea, bloating, heartburn, and potential nutrient deficiencies if excess fruit is replacing other important nutrients in the diet," she says.
"It’s possible to eat too much of any food—including fruit, although excess fruit intake is rarely an issue for most people." —Malina Malkani, RDN
Also, from an absorption standpoint, Shena Jaramillo, RD, notes that it's important to remember that your body can only take in so much of the goodness of fruit in one sitting. "It's great to get a variety of fruits daily, but once our bodies acquire the essential nutrients they need from it, there really is not a benefit to having more," she says. (You don't need to triple up on oranges to triple your vitamin C intake, for example, because your body can only take in so much at once.) Instead, focus on making your two cups of fruit as colorful as possible, then move onto your other favorite foods. (You know: pasta, cauliflower pizza, etc.)
Both dietitians note that those with diabetes and elevated blood sugar levels should consult a registered dietitian or their physician if they feel unsure about how much fruit is appropriate for their diets, since they have to be more mindful than others about any kind of sugar consumption. As always, it can't hurt to ask!
The serving sizes of some of your favorite fruits
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), your daily allotment of two cups can come in the form of fresh, frozen, dried, canned, pre-cut, or pureed fruit. If you're channeling your inner-baby and pureeing all your vitamins in smoothies, you might not find it that hard to measure out two cups of apple, blackberries, or some combo. If you're enjoying more adult forms, of fruit, however, it's not that easy to eyeball serving size. For reference:
- 1 cup apple is equal to 1/2 of a large apple
- 1 cup of banana is equal to one large banana
- 1 cup of grapes is the equivalent of 32 seedless grapes
- 1 cup of grapefruit equals one medium grapefruit
- 1 cup of orange is the equivalent of one large orange
- 1 cup of plums is the equivalent of three medium-sized plums
- 1 cup of strawberries is equal to eight large strawberries
You can find a more exhaustive list of fruit serving sizes here.
The nutritional benefits of eating the right amounts of your favorite kinds of fruit
It would take me pretty much the rest of my life to tell you all the benefits of the fruit. (A sacrifice I would gladly make except for that means never eating mango again myself.) The best of the best are definitely worth covering, though.
1. Fruit Is rich in satiating fiber
"Fruit contains fiber which helps slow the rate of the absorption of fructose, the main type of sugar found in fruit, into your bloodstream. This is good because it helps prevent the surges in blood sugar that when repeated, can over time lead to insulin-resistance and increase risk for type 2 diabetes," says Malkani.
If you've enjoyed fruit in your oatmeal, you've probably also experienced its satiating superpowers. "The fiber in fruit helps us feel fuller longer," says Malkani. "It also contributes to the good bacteria in our intestines, which in turn contributes to better gut health." That means more poops and better overall digestion. Who could complain?
A few fruits come out on top when it comes to fiber content. Raspberries contain about eight grams per cup, a medium pear has about six grams, an apple contains five grams, and bananas, oranges, and strawberries all contain about three grams for their respective serving sizes. Design your fruit salad accordingly.
2. It's super hydrating
Fruit may be something you eat, but your body processes it a whole lot like it would a glass of water. "Wild blueberries are about 86 percent water, as are apples. Fresh cherries are 82 percent water, and even a banana is 75 percent water," says registered dietitian Amy Gorin, RDN. Especially if you wake up in the morning feel thirsty, fruit is a really good addition to whatever breakfast your making for yourself—whether it's oatmeal with banana, Greek yogurt with blueberries, or protein pancakes with strawberries.
3. Fruit offers a diverse range of vitamins and minerals
A late 2018 study, which looked at the gut health of 11,000 participants, found that the healthiest folks eat more than 30 different types of plants each week. A diverse diet, researchers found, equals a diverse helping of vitamins and minerals—and fruit can be an instrumental part of that.
"All of fruit's nutrients are essential in optimal functions of body systems." —Shena Jaramillo, RD
For example, says Jaramillo: "Some nutrients we might find in fruit include vitamin C, potassium, Vitamin K, manganese, and vitamin E. All of fruit's nutrients are essential in optimal functions of body systems. Important electrolytes such as potassium are also essential in renal and cardiovascular function."
4. Fruit is good for your heart
Cardiologists have repeatedly told Well+Good writers that they eat fruit every day to protect their ticker. Their most popular go-tos? Avocado (which is full of healthy fats in addition to antioxidants and fiber) and berries (linked to lowering blood pressure).
5. They're good for your brain, too
The reason why fruit is such a brain-healthy food is because of its antioxidants. "Antioxidants are an important dietary need to repair neurons and keep them in prime function," neurologist Kiran Rajneesh, MBBS, previously told Well+Good.
6. Consuming fruit is linked to living longer
Fruit is an important part of the Mediterranean diet, which is the most science-backed eating plan in the entire world. Following the Med diet (fruit included) is linked to lower risk of heart disease and cancer and may add years to your life.
So it's clear: Fruit is really awesome. But it's possible to go overboard on any food, fruit included. If you eat a lot of fruit and start experiencing stomach discomfort, bloating or diarrhea, that's a sign that you may be overdoing it. If that's the case, this is when being mindful of the recommended serving sizes above can especially come in handy.
Fruit is a delicious and vitamin-rich addition to any meal you want to make a bit more satiating and sweet. So serve up your two cups in everything from oatmeal to salad, and count the berries, citrus, and more a win for your entire body.
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