Nature's Candy - Fun & Fresh Ways with Fruit
Fruit Consumption 411
Consuming a variety of fruits (and vegetables) has been linked to a lower risk of many chronic diseases and evidence suggests that the nutrients in fruits and vegetables may offer protective benefits against certain types of cancer (American Academy of Dietetics, 2016). Despite the fact that these foods are exceptional sources of many vitamins and other nutrients, most of us don't get enough in our daily diets. There is some truth to the old adage - An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
According to the CDC's July 10, 2015 publication of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly (MMR), "in 2013, most adults consumed too few fruits and vegetables, with substantial variation by state." The report further noted less than 15% of adults in each state consumed the recommended amount of fruit and less than 14% consumed the recommended amount of vegetables. Given the research-based conclusion that fruit and vegetable consumption offers numerous health benefits and is linked to lower disease risk overall, we need to step up our game!
In this article, I will discuss the general dietary benefits, perceived barriers people often face when preparing fruits, the current dietary serving size recommendations, recipe ideas, and helpful and healthful tips and suggestions for increasing daily consumption of nature's candy.
Thinking about your dietary habits and those of your family, how much fruit do you consume each day?
Fruits are one of the best sources of essential nutrients and, as previously noted, offer valuable benefits for optimal health and well-being for people of all age groups. The following is summarized from the USDA's website (included in the links section at the end of this article).
- Most fruits are low in fat and calories.
- Fruits are cholesterol free.
- Fruits contain potassium, fiber, folate, and antioxidants.
- Eating a variety of fruits (and veggies) lowers the risk for: heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, obesity, and kidney stones.
- Eating fruit in place of other high calorie choices can be a key to lowering caloric intake and promoting weight loss.
- Consuming fruits high in potassium have been shown to stabilize blood pressure.
- As fruits are naturally a rich fiber source, consumption has been shown to reduce cholesterol and, in turn, may lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Throughout my career as a personal trainer and college educator, I hear the same or similar comments about the barriers to fresh fruit consumption from my students and clients. Generally, individuals remark about the high cost, lack of fresh produce availability, time and effort to prepare (chop or peel), and lack of knowledge of nutrient benefits. Even as a professional, I can empathize with many of these same statements; existing literature and published study results also reinforce these sentiments (CDC).
Price: Yes, fresh produce can have a higher price tag. However, paying for good food now is truly an investment that can save an individual from paying for poor health and associated costs of chronic diseases later on in life. Prioritize the healthier option and start placing a value on the consequences of eating poorly.
Availability: The availability, quality, and variety differ between geographic areas. For example, I live in Wyoming - it's a gorgeous area of this country, but opportunities to grow or secure a large variety of high quality/fresh produce can be a challenge due to the climate and shorter growing season. If this is an issue for you - frozen and canned fruits are an option. The key to choosing the healthiest available option is to examine the ingredient label for added sugar. There is a significant difference between the nutritional quality of a food with a label that says "in own juice" versus one that says "in heavy syrup". Read ingredients and look for "no sugar added" cues on the front of packages.
Time/Effort: This point specifically applies to fruits that require some prep work - oranges, pineapples, pomegranates, watermelons, etc. True, these types of fruits do require some elbow grease; however, devoting a half our of time on the weekends or on a day off to prep the fruit will allow for ready-made, grab-and-go snack options throughout the week. Place 1/2 cup to 1 cup serving sizes in "to go" containers or baggies to make it easy for family members to pack for school or work.
Lack of Knowledge: Fortunately, there are many valuable websites and educational materials specifically designed to enhance knowledge and communicate the nutritional benefits associated with these types of foods. It isn't necessary to know all of the fine details and nutrients in a given fruit for you to succeed in incorporating them in to your diet. In other words, you don't need to study! Refer to the Links & Helpful Resources section of this article.
Fresh Ways to Incorporate Fruit
With a little creativity and vision, eating fruit can be easy and fun without detracting from the nutritional benefits. Here are some ideas to harness the power of fruit in fun and creative ways. These ideas are great for families with little ones.
Frozen Fruit Cubes - Puree your favorite berries or use a combination and freeze in ice cube trays. The next time you reach for a glass of water, you will have fruit cubes to quench your thirst.
Fruit Kebobs - Summer is the grilling season. Try grilling a mix of your favorites using BBQ skewers. Chunks of pineapple, peaches, plums, bananas and strawberries work well. Once the skewers are assembled, lightly brush with canola oil and cook on a grill until the fruit is softened and has light grill marks. The heat will intensify the already sweet flavor of the fruits.
Grilled Peaches & Greek Yogurt - This works well as a dessert. Grill peach halves (or any stone fruit of your choice) and pair with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt and a drizzle of agave nectar. Delicious, healthy, and packed full of protein and fiber!
Fruit Flags - Gather strawberries, banana slices, and blueberries. Thread on skewers alternating each fruit to make a patriotic-themed snack. This is great for an after-school snack or backyard BBQ. Tip - squirt with some lemon juice to slow the oxidation of the banana slices.
Fruit Salad - Anything goes with this one. The point with a fruit salad is to make a medley of your favorite fruit flavors. No dressing needed. Mix berries, bananas and apples and add a squeeze or two of fresh lemon. Top with unsweetened coconut flakes for added texture and flavor.
Add Sweet to Savory - There's no rule that says fruit has to be eaten as a side dish - make it the star of the course. Pair grilled pineapple with a pork loin or add chunks of apple to a grilled chicken salad. Marry citrus fruits with spinach or kale; the sweet and tart fruit will balance the bitterness of the greens.
Frozen Fruit Pops - The freezer is your friend. Blend natural Greek yogurt with fruit and pour into popsicle molds and freeze overnight. Serve as a refreshing and healthy after dinner treat.
Taste the Rainbow - Select fruits in a red (strawberries, raspberries, red apples), orange (cantaloupe, oranges), yellow (pineapple, yellow pears), green (green apples, honeydew), and blue (blueberries) color palette. Arrange in the shape of rainbow on a white plate (simulating clouds) and add a Greek yogurt, lemon, & honey dipping sauce as a pot of gold.
Add Dark Chocolate - Dip strawberries in melted dark chocolate (stems on) and allow to set on a wax-paper lined baking sheet. Serve as dessert. (Tip - look for quality dark chocolate that is 70% dark cocoa - the bitterness will compliment the sweetness of the strawberry).
By no means is this an exhaustive list of suggestions or ideas, but it's something to get the juices flowing - so-to-speak.
Fabulous Frozen Fruit Smoothie
Fruit intake needs vary based on an individual's age, sex, and level of daily physical activity. Refer to the table for a summary of the current recommendations.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a serving of fruit can include 1 cup of fruit, 8 ounces of 100% fruit juice (not "fruit juice cocktail"), or 1/2 cup dried fruit. A caveat to fruit juice: juices do not contain fiber (same rule applies to applesauce). To receive the greatest nutrient benefit, choose the whole food over a semi-processed version. If juice is a regular in the home, try cutting it with water to reduce the overall sugar intake (thus reducing caloric intake).
Some examples of servings are:
- 1/2 of a large or 1 small apple
- 1 cup of whole grapes
- 1 medium grapefruit
- 1 medium pear
- 8 large strawberries (approximately)
- 3 medium or 2 large plums
Daily Fruit Intake Recommendations
Seriving Size/Age Ranges
1 cup (2-3 years old) and 1-1.5 cups (4-8 years old)
1.5 cups (9-18 years old)
1.5 cups (9-13 years old) and 2 cups (14-18 years old)
2 cups (19-30 years old) and 1.5 cups (31+ years old)
2 cups (19+ years old)
Top 10 Tips to Enhance Daily Fruit Intake
Increasing fruit intake can be accomplished with a few simple daily practices aimed at changing at-home or in-the-office practices.
- Keep fresh fruit in sight - use a large fruit bowl to display fruit on the kitchen counter. Food that is visible is food that is (generally) consumed.
- Invest in dried fruits (no sugar added) or frozen and canned to reduce the prep work and support convenience.
- Pack fruits and nuts as snacks for the day. The nuts add protein, fiber, vitamins, and provide a nice texture profile.
- Top oatmeal or a low-sugar breakfast cereal with banana or fresh berries.
- Eat a variety (think selecting different colors of the rainbow - if you had a banana at breakfast, try an orange at lunch or as a snack).
- Use fruit as an edible garnish at mealtimes or, better yet, incorporate into the dish itself.
- Make fruit fun for kids - think of creative names and displays.
- Blend it together. Make a fruit smoothie (such as the one in the video) for a mid-day snack.
- Use natural, pureed fruits when baking in place of sugar.
- Try a featured fruit plan. Select a fruit of the week and showcase it during mealtimes. This accomplishes two specific goals: A) it's a teachable tool - featuring a fruit gives you the opportunity to teach (and learn) about the benefits that fruit offers; and B) sets an example for the family that fruit is fun. Kids will love it!
An Apple A Day...
Fruit. It tastes good and, bonus, is good for you! Incorporating fruit into a daily diet doesn't have to be difficult or laborious - fun, creativity, and planning are all the ingredients you need to enjoy what nature already has to offer. To quote Ann Wigmore, "the food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison." Let's choose wisely; choose to be well, live well, and stay well.
Segmenting Citrus Fruits
Links & Helpful Resources
- American Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
- All About the Fruit Group | Choose MyPlate
- Preventing Chronic Disease | A Qualitative Study of Perceived Barriers to Fruit and Vegetable Consum
Obesity is the leading preventable cause of illness and a major contributor to chronic disease. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables can help manage and prevent weight gain and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.