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Exploring the Food Groups

Fruit Group
Although they are not grouped together, the fruit and vegetable groups share a tier on the Food Guide Pyramid. Neither group is more important than the other, so you should eat servings from both groups. The fruit group is filled with colorful, nutritious, and delicious varieties. Most fruits have no fat, and all are cholesterol free. Fruits are loaded with many essential nutrients that vary among the varieties. Eating different fruits ensures a better intake of all the nutrients that they provide. Try as many colors and types as you can for variety.

The Food Guide Pyramid suggests consuming two to four servings from the fruit group each day.

One serving equals any of the following:

  • One small to medium fresh fruit
  • ½ cup canned or cut-up fresh fruit
  • ¾ cup fruit juice
  • ¼ cup dried fruit
Fruit's sweet flavor comes from fructose, a naturally occurring sugar. Fructose is a carbohydrate, which is a good source of energy or blood glucose and your body's main source of energy. Fruit is full of healthy substances such as vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber, just to name a few. Citrus fruits, berries, and melons are excellent sources of vitamin C. Dried fruits are available all year long, and are an excellent source of many nutrients, including fiber.

Fact: Antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and some minerals such as selenium, copper, zinc, and manganese. Antioxidants help to counteract the effects of dangerous free radicals in the body, which are formed by normal body processes and environmental factors. Free radicals damage body cells and tissues. This damage can lead to the onset of health problems such as cancer, heart disease, cataracts, arthritis, and other health issues that come with age. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures an adequate intake of antioxidants.

Handle Fruit with Care
Just like vegetables, it is important to handle and choose your fruits wisely for optimal nutrient content. Following certain tips can help you get the most out of the fruit group.

Tips for storing, washing, and serving fruit include the following:

  • Keep in mind that fruits are perishable, even if you store them properly, so only buy amounts you need. The freshest fruits contain the most nutrients.
  • Store your fruits properly to maintain quality. Store them so you use the ripest ones first.
  • Wash produce to remove surface dirt and bacteria. Rinse in cool water, and if the surface is firm, scrub with a small, soft-bristled brush.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling your produce.
  • When cutting fruits, use a clean cutting board that is not used for other foods, such as meat.
  • Leave the edible skin on fruits whenever possible. Most of the vitamins and minerals are found in the skin and in the area just below the skin.
Essential: Fruits to buy and eat within a few days include these: apples, oranges, grapes, pineapple, cherries, strawberries, and watermelon. Fruits that will continue to ripen and still maintain their nutritional quality include apricots, cantaloupe, bananas, plums, peaches, pears, and nectarines.

Eat Your Fruits
Fruits offer a refreshing, crunchy, and sweet food option. The best choices for fruits are fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or fruit juices. Whole fruit is more filling and contains more fiber than fruit juices, so choose whole fruits more often. When choosing canned fruits, look for varieties that are canned in their own juice or whose labels specify "extra light syrup." The key is to eat a variety to supply your body with all of fruit's nutrients.

Follow these tips to help include fruit in your daily diet:

  • Keep fruit in the house. If it's not there, chances are you won't eat it!
  • Look for dried fruits in the produce section. They are nonperishable and packed with nutrition and fiber.
  • Eat a piece of fruit at breakfast. Cut up fruit to put in your cereal or favorite yogurt.
  • If you don't have time for a piece of fruit, grab a glass of fruit juice. Take a piece of fruit to work to enjoy on break or at lunch.
  • Cut up fruit and have it cleaned and stored in the refrigerator so that when you have that snack attack, you have some easily available.
  • Try fruit for dessert.
  • Try a quick and easy fruit smoothie by blending a cup of berries (or your favorite fruit) with a half cup of vanilla low-fat yogurt and a cup of ice.
ALERT! Some dried fruits may be preserved in sulfites. Sulfites can trigger allergic reactions in some people. If you know you have an allergy, read the ingredient labels on dried fruits to find out if sulfites are present.

The Juice Debate
When choosing fruit juices, check the label. Actual fruit juice contains fructose, the naturally occurring sugar in fruit. Fruit drinks, fruit cocktails, and fruit ades contain fructose plus added sugar. When the label states "100 Percent Fruit Juice," the juice only has the naturally occurring sugar fructose and no added sugar. The body uses all sugar the same, but juice with added sugar contains more calories. The percentage of juice has nothing to do with the nutrient content, such as vitamin C, so the best advice is to check out the food label!

Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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