Few things compare to the sweetness of fresh-picked strawberries or the luscious first bite of watermelon that leaves juice dripping down your chin.
Fruits are not only delicious but healthful too. Rich in vitamins A and C, plus folate and other essential nutrients, they may help prevent heart disease and stroke, control blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent some types of cancer and guard against vision loss. They’re so good for you that Health Canada recommends that most women get seven or eight servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
If it’s the vitamins that promote good health, you may wonder if you can just pop supplements. Nope. Sun-drenched peaches and vine-ripened grapes contain more than just vitamins; they’re a complex combination of fibre, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals – as well as the vitamins – that work in combination to provide protective benefits. You can’t get all that from a pill.
All fruits offer health benefits, but the following 25 stand out as nutrient-dense powerhouses with the most disease-fighting potential. (Note: Only the best sources of each vitamin, mineral and antioxidant are listed in the “nutritional value” section.)
• Nutritional value (1 medium): 75 calories, 3 g fibre
• Disease-fighting factor: Apples contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which may help lower the chance of developing diabetes and asthma. Apples are also a natural mouth freshener and clean your teeth with each crunchy bite.
• Did you know? An apple’s flavour and aroma comes from fragrance cells in apple skin, so for maximum flavour, don’t peel your apple. Plus, the vitamins lie just beneath the skin.
• Nutritional value ( ½ avocado): 114 calories, 4.5 g fibre, source of vitamin E and folate
• Disease-fighting factor: Avocados contain healthy monounsaturated fats that can help lower cholesterol levels when eaten instead of harmful saturated fats. For a heart-healthy boost, replace butter with avocado on your favourite sandwich.
• Did you know? Babies love avocados. Their soft, creamy texture makes them easy to eat, and their high fat content helps with normal infant growth and development.
• Nutritional value (1 medium): 105 calories, 3 g fibre, source of vitamin B6, potassium and folate
• Disease-fighting factor: With 422 milligrams of potassium per banana, these sweet delights have more potassium than most fruit and may help lower blood pressure levels.
• Did you know? People with rubber latex allergies may also be allergic to bananas since the two come from similar trees and share a common protein.
• Nutritional value (1/2 cup/125 mL): 31 calories, 4 g fibre, rich in antioxidants
• Disease-fighting factor: Blackberries get their deep purple colour from the powerful antioxidant anthocyanin, which may help reduce the risk of stroke and cancer. Studies show that blackberry extract may help stop the growth of lung cancer cells.
• Did you know? The ancient Greeks called blackberries “gout-berries” and used them to treat gout-related symptoms.
• Nutritional value (1/2 cup/125 mL): 41 calories, 1.5 g fibre, rich in antioxidants
• Disease-fighting factor: Blueberries rank No. 1 in antioxidant activity when compared to 60 other fresh fruits and vegetables. Blueberries may help lower the risk of developing age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
• Did you know? Blueberries freeze very well. Here’s how: Rinse, then let berries dry in a single layer on towels. Freeze in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets. Seal in freezer-safe containers for up to one year. Use them straight from the freezer in your morning cereal, blend them into a smoothie or mix into pancake or muffin batter. (You can also buy frozen blueberries year-round.)
The serving size listed for each fruit in our glossary counts as one serving in Canada’s Food Guide. The number of servings you need each day depends on your age and gender. For example, women between the ages of 19 and 50 need seven to eight servings of fruit and vegetables each day (three fruit and four vegetable servings would suffice). To determine the correct number of vegetable and fruit servings for you, visit the Health Canada website
• Nutritional value (1/2 cup/125 mL): 25 calories, less than 1 g fibre, source of vitamin A, folate and potassium
• Disease-fighting factor: Cantaloupe is high in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which may help reduce the risk of developing cataracts. Cantaloupe is a perfect diet food since it has about half the calories of most other fruits.
• Did you know? Since bacteria can grow on the outside rind, it is important to wash cantaloupe before cutting into it.
• Nutritional value (2 dried figs): 42 calories, 1.5 g fibre, source of potassium, calcium and iron
• Disease-fighting factor: High in fibre, figs may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
• Did you know? Puréed figs make an excellent substitute for fat (like butter or oil) in baked goods. Simply purée 1 cup (250 mL) of dried figs with 1/4 cup (50 mL) of water, then replace half of the fat called for in the recipe with an equal amount of the fig mixture.
• Nutritional value (1/2 cup/125 mL): 90 calories, 2.5 g fibre, source of vitamin A,
rich in antioxidants
• Disease-fighting factor: Goji berries are a nutrient powerhouse, containing six vitamins, 21 minerals and a slew of antioxidants. They have been linked to the prevention of diabetes and cancer, but more research is needed to understand their effects.
• Did you know? Dried goji berries, which look like dried cranberries, can be found in most health food and bulk stores.
Note: Health Canada has warned people using the prescription drug Warfarin to avoid goji berries, because they can alter the drug’s effectiveness.
• Nutritional value (1/2 grapefruit): 52 calories, 2 g fibre, source of vitamin A
• Disease-fighting factor: Pink grapefruit contains lycopene and flavonoids, which may help protect against some types of cancer. Grapefruit also boasts an ample supply of pectin, a soluble fibre that may help lower cholesterol levels.
• Did you know? Grapefruit can heighten the effect of certain drugs, including cholesterol-lowering statins. Check with your pharmacist to see if grapefruit may interfere with any of your medications.
• Nutritional value (1 large): 56 calories, 3 g fibre, source of vitamins C and E, and of magnesium and potassium
• Disease-fighting factor: With more vitamin C than oranges, kiwis can help in the development and maintenance of bones, cartilage, teeth and gums. They can also help lower blood triglyceride levels (high triglycerides increase the risk of heart disease).
• Did you know? Most people remove the fuzzy skin, but kiwis can actually be eaten whole – skin and all.
• Nutritional value (1/2 medium): 54 calories, 1.5 g fibre, source of vitamins A and E
• Disease-fighting factor: Mangoes are high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect vision and reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in adults).
• Did you know? Mangoes can be enjoyed ripe as a sweet, juicy dessert choice or unripe as a sour, crunchy addition to chutney and salads.
• Nutritional value (1 medium): 62 calories, 3 g fibre, source of vitamin C, folate and potassium
• Disease-fighting factor: Oranges are a good source of folate, an important vitamin for pregnant women that can help prevent neural tube defects in their infants. They also contain a phytochemical called hesperidin, which may lower triglyceride and blood cholesterol levels.
• Did you know? The edible white part of the orange rind has nearly the same amount of vitamin C as the flesh, so eat that part too!
• Nutritional value (1/2 cup/125 mL): 40 calories, 1 g fibre
• Disease-fighting factor: Pineapple contains a natural enzyme called bromelain, which breaks down protein and helps aid digestion. Bromelain may also help prevent blood clots, inhibit growth of cancer cells and speed wound healing.
• Did you know? Since bromelain breaks down protein, pineapple juice makes an excellent marinade and tenderizer for meat.
Health Benefits of Pomegranates
- Pomegranate has anti-inflammatory effects that may protect against cancer and other chronic diseases.
- Pomegranate has anti-angiogenic properties, meaning that they may help to prevent growing tumors from acquiring a blood supply, preventing those tumors from receiving the nutrients that would allow them to grow larger.
- Pomegranate is one of the few foods that contain natural aromatase inhibitors. This means that they inhibit the production of estrogen, which can reduce breast cancer risk.
- After treatment for prostate cancer, two studies have shown that pomegranate juice or supplements slowed the increase in PSA.
Protects Against Heart Disease
- Pomegranate phytochemicals reduce LDL oxidation (a contributor to atherosclerotic plaque development).
- Pomegranate phytochemicals have blood pressure-reducing properties.
- In a study of patients with severe carotid artery blockages, after one ounce of pomegranate juice daily for one year, there was a 30 percent reduction in atherosclerotic plaque. In striking contrast, in the participants who did not take the pomegranate juice atherosclerotic plaque increased by 9 percent.
Guards Memory and Brain Function
- Pomegranate supplements taken before and after surgery prevented the postoperative memory dysfunction associated with coronary artery bypass or heart valve surgery.
- In those with mild memory complaints, individuals drinking pomegranate juice daily performed better on a memory task compared to placebo and displayed increased brain activation measured by functional MRI.
Removing the edible arils from the pomegranate is easy when you know how to do it. The easiest way is to cut it around the diameter, split it into two and then pound the back with the back of a large serving spoon. The flavor and health benefits of pomegranate make the effort well worth it.
Enjoy fresh pomegranates, especially when they are in season, and store some arils in the freezer to get the health benefits of pomegranate all year round. Pomegranate season typically runs from October through February. When selecting pomegranates, look for a ripe, deep-colored fruit with a red to reddish-brown outer rind that is heavy for its size.
• Nutritional value (3 prunes): 60 calories, 2 g fibre, source of vitamin A
• Disease-fighting factor: Prunes are a source of the mineral boron, which may help prevent osteoporosis. Prunes also impart a mild laxative effect due to their high content of a natural sugar called sorbitol.
• Did you know? Marketers in the United States are trying to legally rename prunes “dried plums” to appeal to a younger market.
• Nutritional value (1/2 cup/125 mL): 32 calories, 4 g fibre, source of folate and magnesium
• Disease-fighting factor: Raspberries are rich in ellagic acid, an antioxidant that may help prevent cervical cancer. Promising studies in animals have led researchers to believe that raspberries may also help treat esophageal and colon cancer.
• Did you know? Raspberries are so perishable that only three per cent of Canada’s raspberry crop is sold fresh. The remaining berries are used to make jam, baked goods and other delicacies.
• Nutritional value (1/2 cup/125 mL): 23 calories, 1.5 g fibre, source of vitamin C
• Disease-fighting factor: Strawberries are rich in several antioxidants that have
anti-inflammatory properties, including helping to prevent atherosclerosis (hardened arteries) and to suppress the progression of cancerous tumours.
• Did you know? The flavour and colour of strawberries is enhanced by balsamic vinegar. For a fabulous dessert, drizzle balsamic vinegar over ripe strawberries and serve with vanilla ice cream.
• Nutritional value (1 medium): 22 calories, 1.5 g fibre, source of vitamin A, folate and potassium
• Did you know? Tomatoes cooked with a touch of oil provide more lycopene than raw tomatoes, so a rich tomato sauce made with olive oil is a healthy choice.
• Nutritional value (1/2 cup/125 mL): 23 calories, less than 1 g fibre, source of vitamin A
• Disease-fighting factor: Watermelon is 92 per cent water, making it aptly named. It’s a great addition to any weight-loss diet because it is low in calories and satisfies the sweet tooth.
• Did you know? Watermelon rinds and seeds are both edible. Roasted, seasoned seeds make a great snack food, and the juicy rind can be stir-fried, stewed, or pickled.
Phytochemicals: Most of the more than 1,000 known phytochemicals have antioxidant properties that help protect our cells against disease-causing damage. Phytochemicals are often identified by their colour (for example, the purple-hued anthocyanins in blackberries and the red lycopene in tomatoes). Each colourful phytochemical provides a different health benefit to the body, so for the best protection against a variety of diseases, choose an array of colourful fruits each day.
Free radicals: Harmful molecules that occur naturally in the body or that come from pesticides, pollution, smoking and radiation. They damage the body’s cells, which can lead to cancer and heart disease.
Antioxidant: Powerful substances that can protect the body against the harmful effects of free radicals. Some of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals found in fruit can act as antioxidants.