Friday, October 31, 2008
Fruits are Loaded with Nutrients
It’s hard to beat fruits. They provide an abundance of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, essential oils, antioxidants, fiber, and anti-inflammatory substances. Many are alkaline-forming, so they help counteract the strongly acidic Western diet that eats away at our bones. High levels of potassium in fruit balance high salt diets to help prevent high blood pressure. They also help manage blood sugar, regulate bowel function, and strengthen blood vessels, bones, nails, teeth, skin and hair. Humans could not survive long without healthy fruit.
Antioxidant content may be the most compelling reason for loading up on these wonderful foods. Oxidative stress from eating, illness or injury, produces excess free radicals that damage cells and tissues. Skipping antioxidants, over time, may ultimately lead to heart disease, cancer, allergies, and other inflammatory diseases. However, not all fruits are created equal. Fruits like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit and fresh cranberry have the best antioxidant content, followed by apples, peaches, pears, plums, oranges and dates. The exotic juices of pomegranate, mangosteen, acái and goji berry are also unbeatable for antioxidant protection. Whole fruit is best, but juices are acceptable, especially if not concentrated and no sugar is added. Unfortunately, people are attracted to the super sweet juices and fruits like bananas, grapes and orange juice. Yet, even these are superior to most of the sweetened junk that we feed our kids.
Choosing organic fruit is another important consideration, especially for children, who are more susceptible to the dangers of pesticides and other toxins. Organic fruit has also been shown to contain more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than conventional fruits. It may cost more, but the cost to health from eating inferior fruit is much greater.
Fruits are best eaten on an empty stomach. Indigestion is on the rise in the U.S., and one reason is from eating fruits with other foods. Fruits pass quickly though the stomach and are rapidly digested in the intestines. If fruit is eaten with other foods, it is kept waiting in the stomach, where it may ferment and produce gases and harmful compounds. Digestive processes are also disrupted and the fruit’s nutritive value is compromised. Therefore, it is best to eat fruit as a snack in between meals, especially about 30 minutes before a meal to get the best antioxidant boost. Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service, investigating the effects of antioxidants on after-meal oxidative stress, found that grapes, kiwi and wild blueberries were high performers when it came to raising blood levels of important antioxidants. As a general rule, fruit should not be eaten at the end of a meal. However, most people do not have digestive problems with berries after eating. So, if you insist on dessert after a meal, go with berries.
Our early ancestors would not recognize the fruits available in today’s supermarkets. Scientists in the last century have selectively bred fruits to have a long shelf life, few seeds, less fiber and a powerfully sweet taste. Wild fruits are typically less sweet, and much richer in micronutrients than cultivated fruits, particularly in minerals (e.g., copper, iron, calcium) and the vitamins C, E, K, beta-carotene and folic acid. The vitamin C intake of our fruit-eating ape cousins is estimated to be 2-6 grams, compared about 60 mg for humans (one hundred times less!). Wild fruits are also much richer in the millions of “background” nutrients essential to good human health, such as bioflavonoids, terpenes, phenols, carotenes, and many more. For much more information regarding the good foods our ancestors ate, pick up the book “Deadly Harvest” by Dr. Geoff Bond.
The biggest problem with modern fruits has as much to do with what is present in them as what is absent. Starchy and processed fruits are loaded with sugar. Fruits rich in sugar can aggravate pre-existing ailments, such as diabetes, allergies, cancer, and other inflammatory conditions. Dried fruits are nearly as bad, since the sugar is concentrated, and the drying process destroys many of the micronutrients. Frozen fruit retains much of its antioxidant content, but canned fruit should be (garbage) canned.
Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can also be obtained through dietary supplements. Obviously, fruits and vegetables provide a greater wealth of nutrients than do supplements, but getting these nutrients in the diet somehow is the most important consideration. Even gummy bear antioxidants are better for kids than no fruit at all. Plus, antioxidant supplements can provide higher quantities of vitamins C, E, zinc, selenium, vitamin A and many plant flavonoids than fruits and vegetables. The content of these nutrients in fruits varies from farm to farm and year to year. And, with the deterioration of our soil, less and less of these nutrients are found in food. Fortunately, many essential antioxidants can be found in a high quality multivitamin, which every man, woman and child should be taking daily.
If you're not interested in the chemistry of all the wonderful things found in fruits and vegetables, just shop for color. The colorful pigments in blueberries, raspberries oranges, pomegranate, purple tomatoes, etc., are chemicals that protect them from the sun. These pigments are antioxidant rich and protect people in the same way they do plants.
So, if you have a little boy or girl at home with a diarrhea problem, or an inflamed bun, the last thing you want to do is stop all fruits (as an ignorant physician recently recommended to a friend). Certainly stop the sugary juices, but not the whole fruit, especially organic, non-starchy varieties. Switch to water, perhaps with a little pomegranate juice for flavor and antioxidant punch. Make your own fresh fruit sauces or smoothies, or find a good organic brand of baby food that contains these antioxidants. Good food means good health. So, when it comes to food, we must take health into our own hands.