In the thick of the summer, every time I am in a market, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I get giddy looking at all of the heavy, juicy melons. The cherries beckon me like a drug. The peaches and plums I have missed all winter long actually make my heart race. And of course, the berries are so perfectly sun kissed and flavorful that I could eat them at every meal. While many of my favorite fruits are available year-round, there is nothing like eating them when they are in season, plucked from the Northeastern earth at their peak.
At least once per week I get the question: doesn’t fruit have too much sugar? I know people want a yes or no answer, but this question is one that requires a more detailed answer. My bottom line is that fruit is mostly sugar and I generally prescribe one or two servings of fruit per day, depending on the person, their lifestyle, goals and the long list of other factors I consider when I am customizing a meal plan. I cringe when I hear that people don’t eat fruit because it is “too high in carbs” or “too full of sugar.” While I do not think that we are dealing with an obesity epidemic because of fruit, I do think it can be over eaten. Even though fruit does turn mostly to sugar in the body, it also has a lot of great stuff in it: phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, minerals and water, to name a few. The body really does know how to use every part of the peach, melon, berries and banana; it is not the same as a spoonful of refined sugar, such as table sugar, which only provides calories and very little else. When choosing a fruit, choose the one you enjoy the most. If you are watching your weight, limit to one or two servings per day. I suggest lower sugar fruits – berries over bananas, for example. Because fruit is mostly carbohydrate, I tend to make my suggestions more vegetable heavy because many vegetables are lower in calories and carbohydrate than fruits and offer the same vitamin and mineral nutrition properties.
When people ask me what fruit I recommend, I usually say that they should choose the fruits (and foods!) that they enjoy the most. When pushed, I tend to steer people towards lower sugar fruits such as lemon and limes, which may not be eaten like a traditional fruit, but offer amazing flavor in water, seltzer or on lean proteins (they also are fabulous for liver cleansing properties); rhubarb and cranberries (if you can tolerate a compote without too much added sugars); berries such as blackberries, blueberries and raspberries (no beating their high fiber content and antioxidant properties). On occasion, I will have people limit the highest sugar fruits in their meal plan, but still it is good to know which are the higher sugar choices. These include:
- Dried fruit (raisins, dried apricots, prunes)
Many people are like me, and they truly love their fresh fruit – especially in the summer. To maximize your fruit serving, and really stretch the juicy sweet deliciousness, I recommend using fruit in your snack or meal sensibly. Here are some of my tips to make the most of your fruit servings daily:
- Have your fruit with a little fat or protein. Don’t eat fruit alone. Fruit digests and metabolizes really quickly. It does not keep you satisfied for very long – when eaten by itself, most people will be hungry again in less than an hour. Have your berries with some cottage cheese; melon with a sprinkle of flax meal; apple with peanut butter or peaches and yogurt. This practice of pairing fruit with protein or fat will also help to stabilize your blood sugar!
- Put your fruit under fire. You’ll get used to “nature’s candy” and fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth if you opt for grilled pineapple or a broiled grapefruit after your meal, instead of the cheesecake. Fruit is delicious when heated because all of the natural sugars caramelize. Yum.
- Measure your serving. Your apple, orange, peach, plum and pear should be about the size of a tennis or baseball. A cup of fruit salad should be packed down, so there is no space for air. A cup of berries is a half of a pint, but also “packed.” It is possible to overdo it on the fruit, so savor, savor, savor!
- Use fruit as a condiment. Consider a little mango salsa on your chicken, watermelon in your salad or melon on top of your cheese. A small hint of fresh fruit can add a ridiculous amount of flavor to an otherwise standard meal.
- Local and seasonal. You know your fruit is at its peak when it is in the circular at the supermarket, cheaper than usual and more abundant than it has been the rest of the year. I love the smell of the farmer’s markets when it is peach season. Fruit is generally most perfect to eat when there is a slight give when pressed on and the smell is sweet.
Enjoy the harvest. Pray for both sunshine and rain so the fruit is bountiful and delicious. When the apple season comes (in the fall), look back and make sure you got in all of the cherries, berries, peaches, plums and melon the summer season had to offer.