Step three to switching to a plant-based lifestyle may be the easiest dietary change you’ve ever made- add more fruit! It may seem too good to be true that adding fruit is an important step on the plant-based pathway, but let me convince you, keep reading…
Scientifically speaking, a fruit is the seed bearing, fleshy part of a plant. Bananas, tomatoes, mangoes, oranges and apples are among the most popular around the world.
Simply stated- it tastes good and is good for you. Fruit contains powerful antioxidants which reduce inflammation and the effects of aging, help regulate blood sugar for balanced energy, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.
A note about fiber:
Another benefit fruit provides is as a great source of dietary fiber. 97% of Americans don’t get enough fiber. Fiber aids in digestion, and is also important for weight loss. Fiber fills you up and as your food digests fiber clings to calories so that you actually absorb fewer calories. A higher fiber diet helps you burn more calories even when you are sleeping.
But isn’t fruit full of sugar?
When you eat some sugary foods or starchy foods such as potatoes and bread you will get a spike of sugar in your blood. When this happens the body releases insulin into the blood which tells your blood cells to convert the sugar into energy. This is the process whenever you eat, but when you eat foods high in sugar or starch your blood sugar rises quickly and your body releases extra insulin resulting first in a rise in energy then with an energy deficit. This may cause you to have even less energy and to be more tired a little while after eating than you were before you ate. This can start a vicious cycle if you eat more to get more energy. Eventually, this can lead to many health problems.
How does this relate to fruit?
You might surmise that since fruit is sugary and sweet it would lead to the same cycle of quickly raising blood sugar, insulin release then low blood sugar and lack of energy. However, this isn’t what happens. Blood sugar does rise when you eat whole fruit, but you don’t get the big drop afterward which you would get after drinking a can of soda or eating a cookie, even if the amount of sugar is equivalent. A word of caution… fruit juices act in your body more like soda than like whole fruit. Limit juice! It’s best to eat the whole fruit, fiber and all.
Which fruits are best?
Berries! Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries and grapes. Berries are full of powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants counteract some of the harm your body is exposed to from the food you eat, the environment you live in and from aging. The bright color in the berries shows their great nutritive value. The red, blue and purple pigments are actually the antioxidants and phytochemicals. Another reason berries are best is that they are naturally low in sugar, lower than other fruit. Berries keep their powerful antioxidant abilities even when frozen.
Pomegranates also rank very high on highly pigmented, antioxidant packed list of best fruit. Pomegranate juice has become popular among healthy eaters, but like all fruit vs. fruit juice comparisons, the whole fruit wins by a mile.
One more fruit worth mentioning… tomatoes. The hype about lycopene is well founded. Lycopene is a vitally important, powerful carotenoid antioxidant known to reduce free radicals that damage DNA and other cells. Tomatoes may help protect against many common health concerns including asthma and cancer to sunburns and strokes. Other than tomatoes, lycopene is also found in guavas, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. Once again the antioxidant is the color, giving these fruit their red and pink colors.
How much fruit?
Can you eat too much fruit? Recent studies have been done asking this very question. The studies required participants to eat 20 servings of fruit a day! Not only were there no reverse effects, but some participants experienced the beneficial effects of weight loss, lower blood pressure, insulin and lipid levels. Since fruit tastes so good- this is a win, win step to eating more plants! When switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet adding plentiful amounts of fruit may be one of the easiest ways to help your children change their diet.
What about canned fruit?
Studies show that canned fruit does not have the powerful benefits of eating fresh, frozen or dried fruit. In fact, it is possible that the effects of canned fruit are negative for the body. So eat mostly fresh or frozen fruit and dried fruit in moderation. There is one exception- canned tomatoes. The lycopene content in tomatoes actually increases in tomatoes that are canned.
How about dessert?
Fruit makes the perfect before or after meal accompaniment. Eat an apple before your meal to help you eat less or indulge your sweet tooth after a meal with fresh fruit. Replacing dessert with fruit improves your health and reduces your overall calorie intake.
One last tip:
Add fruit to baked goods and other high-glycemic foods (foods that quickly raise your blood sugar) to blunt the spike in blood sugar so you don’t get stuck in the high blood sugar/ low blood sugar cycle.
Fruit is perfect straight from the tree or the vine or try one of my favorite fruit packed recipes: