An apple a day keeps the doctor away. We all heard that one when we were growing up, but how true is it?
There are all sorts of dietary recommendations for eating fruit and vegetables, like “Five A Day Works”.
I thought I would have a look at where these recommendations come from.
Sure, eating fruit probably won’t do you any harm, but is there something in fruit that makes you healthier?
Trying to focus on health benefits of fruit
Unfortunately most of the research done on the benefits of eating fruit are combined with studies on vegetables.
This means a lot of the information applies to both. However, I’ll have a go at teasing the two apart where possible.
Eating habits are established during childhood and good diet can promote health for life. So also thinking about this from the point of view of diet and nutrition for children is particularly relevant.
Eating fruit and vegetables reduces health risk
There seems little doubt that increased regular consumption of fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of developing many chronic diseases.
These protective qualities of fruit and vegetables seem to be associated with the high dietary fiber content and a variety of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and many other health-promoting chemicals.
These chemicals present in fruit (and vegetables) are often called phytochemicals. The name comes from “phyto”, the greek word for plant.
A lot has been written about dietary fiber and its benefits for health.
Dietary fiber is undigestible plant material, which means it cannot be broken down by our digestive systems. As a result dietary fiber provides “bulk” in our diet, which stretches the walls of the intestines promoting bowel activity and reducing constipation.
This bulky fiber also cleans the walls of the intestines, reducing the risk of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. Fiber also reduces the absorption of fats from the diet, reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol reaching our blood stream.
I could go on, but this should be enough to demonstrate the importance of dietary fiber.
When we think of high-fiber foods we often imagine bran, wholemeal bread and so on, but what about fiber in fruit?
Surprisingly some of the fruits that are high in fiber don’t have this roughage look about them.
Sure, fruits like apricots, prunes, pears and apples (both including the peel) might be expected to have a high fiber content, but what about softer berries? In fact raspberries and blackberries have some of the highest fiber content of any fruit.
This is good news because children tend to like eating these softer, sweeter fruits. Cooking can cause some of the fiber to breakdown, so this shouldn’t be done for too long.
Health-promoting chemicals in fruit
The other phytochemicals found in fruit (and vegetables) represent a variety of chemical types. These chemicals have the potential to protect us from a number of diseases.
Some examples of the types of phytochemical activity are listed below…
Your body produces chemicals called free radicals, which can cause damage and even cancer. Anti-oxidant chemicals neutralise these free radicals and protect us from their damaging effects.
Chemicals present in fruit help your body to break down and dispose of waste from the blood.
Stimulation of immune system
The immune system is essential to protect us from infection, promote wound healing, and monitor our bodies to prevent the development of cancer. Vitamins, such as vitamins C and E, stimulate the immune system, making it more effective.
Decreased platelet aggregation
Several chemicals derived from vegetables can “thin the blood” by making platelets less sticky. Some chemicals in fruits such as grapes can have the same protective effect.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released when we are stressed, and one of the things it does is raise our blood glucose. Grapefruit can reduce the amount of cortisol in the blood.
Blood pressure reduction
Fruit can help adults with hypertension. For example, guava, a potassium-rich fruit, can lower blood pressure.
The best-know example of fruit with anti-bacterial activity is probably cranberry juice for helping ot deal with urinary tract infections.
Eating fruit seems to be good for you
So it seems pretty clear that eating plenty of fruit is good for your health.
Since eating patterns for life are often established in childhood it is wise to encourage children to eat more fruit. Fruit and vegetables provide similar health benefits, but it is probably easier to get children to eat fruit than vegetables.
The information here makes it clear that adults should try to eat more fresh fruit. When I am getting myself some lunch I usually buy a couple of bananas, but I think I need to look at all the other amazing fruits that are available and be a bit more adventurous.