Why Everyone Should Be Eating Fruit. Everyone.

When you are a registered dietitian, a lot of things drive you nuts. The FDA, food marketers, bogus “experts”…it makes my skin crawl when people refuse to eat food or food ingredients and they can’t explain why, or they try to expound on their choices and it is a jumble of illogical, fake facts. People give up gluten because “it’s bad for you”, give up milk because “it causes inflammation”, and give up fruit because of “the sugar”. Of all of those, the campaign against fruit might hurt me the most. There are a lot of people who either can’t afford or don’t have access to fruit, and trust me, their health suffers as a result.

Eating a diet that is rich in both fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of developing many health conditions including heart disease, strokes, obesity, macular degeneration, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, colon cancer, and osteoarthritis (among many others). Eating just vegetables simply isn’t enough; fruits have some compounds in them that can’t be replaced by eating other foods (examples are hesperidin and limonene).

Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, was quoted in an article for The New York Times (Making the Case for Eating Fruit) as saying that “sugar consumed in fruit is not linked to any adverse health effects, no matter how much you eat.” In fact, he and many other experts point out that increased fruit consumption is tied to lower body weight and a lower risk of obesity-associated diseases.

A person with diabetes should never avoid fruit. It is the total amount of carbohydrates in a food that affects blood glucose levels and one serving of fruit contains around 15 grams of carbohydrate, which is 1/3 of the amount allowed for a meal for most women or ¼ of a meal for most men. For example, you could eat 1 ¼ cups cubed watermelon, 1 ¼ cups whole strawberries, and ¾ cup of cubed pineapple for the same amount of carbohydrate that you’d consume in one cup of pasta or rice. In fact, people who ate at least three servings of some fruits (including blueberries, grapes, and apples) weekly had up to a 26% reduced risk of developing diabetes in a study published in BMJ in 2013. Furthermore, eating two servings of fruit a day does not appear to affect blood glucose levels in overweight people with diabetes.

Here are a few examples of what you give up when you decide that the fruit (!) is the problem in your diet.

  • It has been suggested that the lycopene found in pink grapefruit, papaya, guava, and red oranges (such as blood oranges) may reduce the risk of: cancer, heart disease, and age-related eye disorders.
  • The beta-carotene in manages, cantaloupes, and apricots is possibly effective for reducing the risks of: macular degeneration, breast cancer, complications of lung cancer, exercise-induced asthma, osteoarthritis, ovarian cancer, and pregnancy-related complications, and sunburn.
  • Beta cryptothanxin in pineapple, oranges, peaches, yellow grapefruit, tangerines and pineapples possibly benefits cancer prevention and heart health.
  • Several studies have found an association between the consumption of anthocyanin-rich foods and prevention of heart disease. In cell cultures and in animals, anthocyanins have anti-cancer activities. Research suggests that flavonoids, including anthocyanins, might enhance memory and aid in the prevention of age-related cognitive decline. Anthocyanins are found in: blueberries, strawberries, black currants, red and purple grapes, sweet cherries, black plums, and blood oranges.
  • The ellagic acid in raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, and pomegranate may bind to chemicals that cause cancer and may also prevent the growth of cancer cells.
  • The epicatechin in black grapes, blackberries, apples, cherries, pears, and raspberries are particularly good at fighting the free radicals believed to contribute to disease and cell degeneration.
  • The geraniol in lemons, limes, oranges, blueberries, and blackberries reduces the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in mice.
  • The myricetin in red grapes and berries exhibits a wide range of activities including antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory. Numerous studies have suggested that it might protect against disease such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
  • The pterostillbene in blueberries and grapes has been implicated in anticarcinogenesis, modulation of neurological disease, anti-inflammation, treatment of vascular disease, and improvement of diabetes.
  • The quercetin in citrus fruits, apples, blueberries, blackberries, grapes, and dark cherries has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which might help to reduce prostate inflammation.
  • The resveratrol in red grapes and blueberries has been suggested in early research to protect against heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.
  • The ursolic acid in apples, cranberries, and prunes has been reported to produce antitumor activities and antioxidant activity.
  • The limonene in the peels of citrus fruits may block cancer-forming chemicals and kill cancer cells in the laboratory.

I beg you to not mumble something about “carbs” when you are offered a fresh fruit salad. There is no way to know how your crusade against nutritious, beautiful fruit will affect you 20 or 30 years from now, but my gut tells me that it’s not going to be good. You deserve better.