In addition to tasting great and providing a hefty dose of natural sweetness, fruits are powerhouses of nutrition. They're a main food group because they deliver essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients as well as beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants that can actually improve your overall health. To get the biggest benefits, eat fruits regularly and try to serve up a variety.
Per serving, fruits contain fewer calories than most other major food groups, including dairy, grains and proteins. However, many fruits are particularly filling due to their low energy densities. According to MayoClinic.com, a low energy-dense food has a high water and fiber content and low calorie and fat counts. Thanks to those properties, fruits serve an essential role in healthy weight maintenance or weight loss plans. The USDA reports that a medium banana has about 105 calories, a medium apple has 95, a cup of strawberries has 55 and a cup of watermelon has only 45.
The vitamins and minerals present in fruits are important not only for keeping your body in top shape but also for preventing health problems later in life. MyPyramid.gov notes that eating a variety of fruits can help reduce risks of chronic health issues including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, bone loss and kidney stones. Although many of the same vitamins and minerals found in fruits are also in multivitamins and nutritional supplements, the natural fruits contain more beneficial compounds, including immune-boosting phytochemicals and antioxidants that can't be transferred to pills.
In addition to improving your health, fruits are useful foods to have around because they're so versatile. Their natural sweetness makes it desirable to serve them plain or as an accompaniment to bland foods such as yogurt and oatmeal. Most require little more preparation than peeling, and they add a dramatic pop of color to both savory and sweet dishes. Try baking fruit pieces into muffins or quick bread, pureeing them to top pancakes and waffles, serving them fresh at dinner or blending them into smoothies, sorbets and puddings.
Fruit may have a myriad of benefits, but it's also possible to have too much of a good thing. CNN.com's physician nutrition specialist, Dr. Melina Jampolis, recommends limiting your daily servings of fruit to three because the relatively high sugar and calorie amounts in fruit compared to vegetables can contribute to gradual weight gain. If you have allergies or acid reflux, you may also find that certain fruits aggravate your symptoms. For specific dietary advice regarding which fruits it's healthiest for you to eat and avoid, consult your doctor.