Sweetness, texture and taste make almost any fruit a tempting treat. Better yet, fruit is chock full of vitamins and nutrients — so eating “nature’s candy” can also boost your health.
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Well, at least most of the time. The health benefit kind of depends on the delivery method.
Fruit often arrives in front of you in various ways — canned, frozen, dried or juiced — that aren’t exactly straight from nature. That processing can rob fruit of some benefits or add extra sugar, explains dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD.
“When you open up a can, cup or bag to have a serving of fruit, what you’re getting might not be as healthy as you think,” she notes.
Which is why she recommends the following.
Let’s start with this: There’s a lot to like about dried fruit. For starters, it’s a shelf-stable alternative to fresh fruit that makes it much easier to tote around. (Hence, why it’s a common item found in various trail mixes.)
Dried fruit also contains roughly the same amount of nutrients as fresh fruit. Researchers have even found that people who regularly eat dried fruit have a better overall diet.
So, what’s the problem? Well, it comes down to serving size and sugar.
Drying fruit removes most of the water content. Water (and fiber) are what help fill you up when eating fruit, explains Czerwony. Subtract the H2O and it becomes very easy to gobble down more than you should.
“Think of it in terms of grapes and raisins,” she adds. “If you eat 15 grapes, that’s going to seem like a lot of food. Now think of eating 15 raisins. That’s going to have a whole different feel.”
The drying process also concentrates the natural sugars in fruit. So, when you eat dried fruit, a lot of sugar-heavy calories enter your system very quickly. (It also doesn’t help that many dried fruit products have added sugar, too.)
“It just means we really need to be mindful while eating dried fruit,” says Czerwony. “If not, you can easily end up overdoing the portion size and getting extra sugar.”
Avoid fruit canned in syrup
If you’re buying canned fruit, Czerwony recommends becoming an avid label reader. The reason? You want to make sure to get fruit canned in water or 100% juice versus heavy or light syrup.
The syrups that canned fruit swims in are typically loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, a high-calorie sweetener that should be avoided.
Drinking your fruit isn’t the same as eating it, which is why it’s good to show some restraint when it comes to fruit juice and smoothies.
Undeserved healthy halos hang over both types of drinks, says Czerwony. The truth? There’s enough sugar in 100% fruit juice and store-bought smoothie drinks to draw tsk-tsk comparisons to soda.
It’s easy to overdo it on the sugar, too. For perspective, a glass of orange juice has about 23 grams of sugar — which is not far off the daily limit of sugar recommended by the American Heart Association.
As for store-bought smoothies, they can be absolute sugar bombs depending on what’s tossed into the blender to make them taste better. (Making smoothies at home offers you a little more control on that front.)
“Fruit juice and smoothies concentrate a lot of sugar into one glass,” says Czerwony. “That can add up to a lot of calories and a quick influx of sugar that your body doesn’t really need. Moderation is the key.”
Notice a theme so far? Yep … it’s all about avoiding added sugar. Fruit already has a relatively high sugar content, so an extra coating of refined sugar layered on the fruit essentially just piles on empty calories.
Which brings us to frozen fruit. “It’s not unusual for there to be a sugar coating to make it taste better,” states Czerwony.
So, when buying bags of frozen blueberries, strawberries or other fruit, check the label for added sugars. (Another telltale sign you’re getting more than just fruit is if the product is branded as “sweetened.”)
If you have a choice, always lean toward eating fresh, whole fruit. “It’s always going to be your best option,” says Czerwony. (Here are six tasty and nutritious fruits that come with a dietitian’s seal of approval.)
But there’s also a reality to life. Sometimes, fresh fruit just isn’t handy or available. In that case, eat dried fruit or juice to meet healthy diet guidelines. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating about 2 cups of fruit per day.)
“Just know what you’re eating and pay attention to serving sizes,” advises Czerwony. “Eating any fruit is a positive, but some choices are better than others.”