Fruit, Health, and Tu B’Shevat

Happy Tu B’Shevat everyone!

The new year for trees starts this evening, and one of the ways we celebrate is by eating fruit – especially those noted in the Torah as being associated with Israel, like figs and dates.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’ve found that a lot of my clients are nervous about eating fruit. They’ve heard in the past that fruit is unhealthy, no different than eating table sugar, and causes weight gain. Have you also heard these things?

These fears make it difficult to truly enjoy Tu b’Shevat celebrations.

I’m writing to clear some things up so that you will feel comfortable eating fruit not just today, but every day!

Fruit isn’t bad for you. It provides you with fiber, water, energy, a variety of vitamins and minerals – including antioxidants.

Fiber in fruit

Fiber helps with satiety, regulates digestion, promotes heart health, and can reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. You’ll get even more fiber from your fruit if you leave the skin on. Obviously, if the skin isn’t edible, go ahead and peel it anyway!

Water

Water, of course, is necessary for hydration. Nearly 2/3 of the human body (60%) is composed of water.

fresh pomegranate

Vitamins and Minerals in Fruit

The vitamins and minerals in fruit vary, but can include:

  • Vitamin C, an antioxidant that can reduce cancer risk, boost wound-healing, supports a healthy immune system, and more. Vitamin C is found in fruits such as oranges, kiwi, grapefruit, lemon, strawberries, and guava.
  • Potassium, which can reduce your risk for high blood pressure and protect against stroke, in addition to other health benefits. Fruits high in potassium include oranges, banana, cantaloupe, and dates, among other fruits.
  • Folate, AKA folic acid, which is especially important for women who may become pregnant since it is vital for protecting against neural tube defects. We usually think of folate as being found in dark leafy greams, but fruits like mango, papaya, and pomegranate, are also good sources of folic acid.
  • Vitamin A, an antioxidant important for immune health, vision, and cell growth. Vitamin A can be found in fruits like cantaloupe, apricots, and mango.

Obviously, there are many more vitamins and minerals in fruits than those listed above, but you get the idea!

Carbohydrates in Fruit

Now, let’s talk about carbohydrates and sugar! Yes, fruit does contain carbohydrates (which breaks down into sugar). Carbs have gotten a bad rap over the years. But, carbohydrates are your body’s (and particularly your brain’s) primary source of energy.

Some carbohydrates are healthier than others. For example, whole grains, beans, and fruit provide more nutritional benefits than white bread and candy bars. You don’t need to be afraid of consuming carbs, particularly in fruit form. Even my diabetic clients eat fruit. We just balance it out with the other carbohydrates they consume throughout the day.

How Much Fruit Should You Eat?

Now, how much fruit should you be eating each day?

The recommended daily amount of fruit to aim for is 2-4 servings per day. A serving is about a medium piece of fruit (like apples, pears, oranges), a small banana, or about 1 cup of berries or melon. Dried fruit is much more condensed since it’s been dehydrated, so a serving size is about 1/4 cup.

The general recommendation for fruit juice is to stick to no more than 1/2 cup per day. That’s because juice is lacking in fiber and quick to digest, which can leave you unsatisfied. A piece of fruit, on the other hand, will fill you up for longer while giving you the health benefits of fiber.

Some people with certain medical conditions will of course have valid concerns about eating fruit. If you have Crohn’s and are in a flare, for example, you’ll likely be following a low fiber diet. If you’re someone who is on dialysis, you’ve probably received instruction on choosing low-potassium fruits. Heart failure patients who may have fluid restrictions may be told to count certain fruits (like watermelon) toward their daily fluid intake. In other words, you should always consult with your personal registered dietitian before changing your diet if you’re concerned about particular medical conditions.

Wishing you a happy, healthy Tu B’Shevat!

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