All right, so no processed sugar. High-fructose corn syrup is definitely out of the question. And now science is finally proving that all those artificially sweetened sodas we’ve been quaffing so virtuously are just as bad for us as sugar is, and probably worse. What’s someone with a sweet tooth to do? The answer is the fruit, the whole fruit, and nothing but the fruit. While fruit juice contains some vitamins, you’re really missing out on the lion’s share of nutrients if you deprive yourself of the whole fruit.
The skin of the fruit contains most of the healthy carotenoids and flavonoids that have numerous benefits, including, studies are finding, providing some protection against cancer. The pulp of the fruit also contains flavonoids and vitamins that can be lost through the juicing process. And where fruit juice really falls short is in its fiber content. An apple contains around 4 grams of fiber. A glass of apple juice contains no fiber. Fiber helps your body digest and metabolize fruit’s naturally occurring sugar more slowly, which prevents your body from experiencing a “sugar spike”—the blood sugar elevation you get from drinking juice. Plus we all know fiber is nature’s Roto-Rooter®, scrubbing your digestive system clean.
The argument for working a few servings of whole fruit into your diet each day is a strong one. After all, that old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” didn’t come out of thin air. When I was younger, I had a friend whose father was a doctor and she religiously ate an apple every day, including the core. Well, I thought that was a bit much, but I bet she was super-regular! A corollary to that old saying might be “An apple a day can make you pretty sick of apples after a couple of weeks.” As with incorporating most food into our diets, variety is the spice of life. Here are a few ideas for slipping more fruit into your day.
Cut it. A lot of times, a big bowl of fruit can be too daunting. You might not be hungry enough to eat a whole apple and you might opt for a smaller snack. Try slicing up a couple of apples and putting them in an airtight container or bag. By tossing them in lemon juice, you can prevent them from turning that unappetizing brown, at least for a day or so. Keep them in the fridge, or handy on your desk or in front of the TV, for a healthy snack. Any sort of combination of cut-up fruit is a great idea for a TV snack. Instead of absentmindedly eating a day’s worth of sodium and fat from the chip bag, you might eat your “apple a day” before you know it.
Mix it. Tired of apples? Check out some of the more exotic fruits in your produce section or farmers’ market. Have you tried kiwis, pomegranates, mangosteens, or gooseberries? Also, get to know what the seasons bring to your neck of the woods. In California, we’re in the middle of Meyer lemon and blood orange season—delicious citrus varieties that aren’t as available or as good at other times of the year. And by mixing up the variety of fruits you eat, you’ll be getting a greater range of vitamins and antioxidants, thus maximizing your health benefits.
Dip it. Especially for kids, a little fun time needs to accompany mealtime. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that those apple-and-caramel dipper packages are healthy snacks. I guess they’re better than pure caramel, but they’re still pretty much two steps back nutritionally from just eating healthy fruit. Instead, why not mix up some nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt with a little cinnamon? You’ll get the health benefits of yogurt. And cinnamon has also been shown to have additional health benefits, like helping stabilize blood sugar. Dunking your fruit in a little unsweetened peanut butter makes for another great taste combo—the peanut butter gives the fruit some protein, and the fruit gives the peanut butter sweetness.
Add it. Forget those cereals with the sugared raisins or other sweetened dried fruit. And I assure you that Cap’n Crunch® Crunch Berries® are not found anywhere in nature. There are a ton of hot and cold cereals that contain dried or artificial fruit, and while dried fruit has some nutritional value, it’s nothing—in nutrition or in flavor—compared to adding some cut-up fresh fruit or berries to your bowl of bran or oatmeal.
Freeze it/can it. While fresh fruit is often the most flavorful and nutritious option, procuring it can often be geographically or financially prohibitive. If getting fresh fruit is a hassle, consider buying it frozen or canned, or freezing or canning in-season fruit yourself. As with all prepared food, check the label to make sure that fruit isn’t merely a decorative addition to a can full of corn syrup. It’s best if packed in unsweetened natural fruit juice. (Pear juice is a common canning juice.) Bags of frozen berries are also great to have on hand to jazz up your morning smoothie or just to pop in your mouth on a hot summer day for a frosty snack. Making “grapesicles” by throwing a bag of grapes in the freezer creates a great snack for kids and adults alike. And here’s another good tip: If you have some bananas that are turning brown, peel them and wrap them in foil and stick them in the freezer for later.