Fruits: How Food Affects Health

Fruit is a high-quality carbohydrate that is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. The fiber in fruit comes in two forms — soluble and insoluble — and it can be a big help when it comes to weight loss.

The soluble fiber in fruit stabilizes blood sugar, keeps you feeling full, controls your hunger, and it may also lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Plus, it helps to temper blood sugars by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates into your bloodstream after meals, which can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and help keep your mood and energy levels steady. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your food so you can eat more of it without adding extra calories.

You can also think of fruits as “juicy foods,” since they’re mostly made up of water. Fresh and frozen fruit and other foods that have a high water content tend to be low in calories, since all that water adds volume and dilutes the calories. The high fiber and water content in fresh fruit helps fill you up for a minimal calorie cost, making whole fruit a smart addition to any weight-loss plan. The water contained in fruit, like the water you drink, hydrates your cells, flushes toxins from your body, assists with normal organ functioning, and helps you maintain optimal energy levels.

Fruit is especially beneficial for people fighting cardiovascular disease, as research suggests a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease. Heads up — if you’re taking any cardiac medications (or any other medications, for that matter), it’s important to check with your physician or pharmacist to see if any of your meds interact with grapefruit. Compounds in grapefruit and grapefruit juice can affect how certain medications are absorbed and metabolized, so you’ll need to avoid grapefruit completely if directed by a health-care professional.

Common nutrients in fruit include beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, folate, vitamins B6, C, and E, potassium, anthocyanins, and quercetin.

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that’s critical for skin health. After you eat fruit that contains beta-carotene, your body converts some of the beta-carotene into vitamin A. In its new form, this nutrient aids in the growth and repair of skin tissue, helps protect your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, and keeps your hair strong and healthy. Vitamin A may also help guard against macular degeneration. Another carotene found in fruit, beta-cryptoxanthin, may decrease the risk of developing inflammatory conditions, including certain types of arthritis.

B vitamins like folate and B6 may contribute to heart health, healthy hair, and improved memory. Folate also contributes to the production of serotonin, and therefore, it may help with depression and improve mood. Vitamin B6 also helps create dopamine, which may reduce PMS symptoms.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that is largely responsible for the health of collagen, a protein that helps maintain healthy skin and cartilage. Vitamin C occurs naturally in the skin, and regularly consuming vitamin C–rich fruits can help replenish your skin’s vitamin C stores and enhance the skin’s natural beauty. Vitamin C aids in joint flexibility, promotes healthy hair, and may slow bone lossand decrease the risk of fractures. Vitamin C may also help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.

Vitamin E works with vitamin C to provide anti-aging skin protection. In addition, vitamin E may help protect the skin against sun damage and fend off cataracts and macular degeneration.

Fruits high in potassium help prevent osteoporosis by decreasing bone resorption, thus preserving bone density as you age. Eating potassium-rich fruit can also help keep blood pressure low.

Fruits are also rich sources of antioxidants, including anthocyanins, potent disease-fighting compounds that give blue, purple, and red fruits their color, and quercetin, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory activity. Current research suggests that anthocyanins and quercetin may help slow the rate of age-related memory-loss and protect against arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

When it comes to fruit, there is one important caveat: Fruit is higher in calories and sugar than nonstarchy vegetables (nonstarchy vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc.), so you still need to watch your calories and be careful not to overeat fruit. Aim for two to four servings of fresh fruit daily, and limit your intake of calorie-laden fruit juices.

People with celiac disease should note that while fresh fruit in general does not contain any gluten (making fruit acceptable for a celiac diet), dates and figs may be dusted with wheat flour to make them less sticky and so may need to be avoided; check package labels carefully. While the soluble fiber in fruit often eases IBSsymptoms, certain fruits may trigger IBS discomfort. Additionally, some fruits are common migraine triggers, especially citrus fruits and dried fruits with sulfites added as a preservative