Nutrition Action Healthletter
May 1998 — U.S. & Canadian Editions

Fresh Food Comparison



You’d think it were cod liver oil.

Eating more fruit -- ideally a total of four or five servings a day -- could help cut the risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease.  We’re not talking athlete’s foot or the common cold here. Yet the slight upward nudge in fruit consumption is barely detectable.

Maybe people are too stuck on their chips-cookies-candy snack routines. Maybe their sweet tooths are sated by sodas, cakes, and ice cream. Maybe it’s too tough to get good fresh fruit at restaurants, snack bars, or the office.

It doesn’t help that the National Cancer Institute spends only about $1 million a year plugging its 5 a Day program, while Mars spent more than $64 million in 1996 advertising M&M’s.

Whatever the reason, fruit ought to be an everyday pleasure, not medicine.

You Can’t Go Wrong

Any fruit is good fruit. Some studies find a lower risk of cancer among people who eat more fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids and vitamin C. Others find a lower risk among people who eat more of any fruits or vegetables.

But fruit aficionados may want to pick the most nutritious of the bunch. So we gave each fruit a rating by adding up its key nutrients: vitamin C, carotenoids, folate, potassium, and fiber. We also added calcium and iron which are less common in fruit so you can compare scores for fruits to those for vegetables.

For each nutrient, we calculated what percent of the Daily Value (DV) is in one serving of the fruit. One exception: There is no DV for carotenoids. Some like beta-carotene are converted to vitamin A by the body. But others like lycopene may cut the risk of cancer even though they aren t converted to vitamin A. So we added up all the carotenoids and devised our own DV for them 5,000 micrograms (mcg).

And the winners are...

Gold Medalists: 80-421

OK, so you ve never eaten a guava. You still gotta respect its numbers. What sets guava and other super-scorers apart are impressive quantities of vitamin C, carotenoids, or both.

Take watermelon: Two cups supply 45 percent of a day’s worth of vitamin C and 245 percent of a day’s carotenoids. Or pink grapefruit: A half has 100 percent of a day’s vitamin C and 145 percent of a day’s carotenoids...for only 50 calories.

Don’t worry if you can’t find papayas, mangos, or some of the fancier fruits in the chart.  And don’t sweat it if you refuse to fork over three bucks for half a pint of raspberries.

There’s no shame in sticking with oranges, watermelon, cantaloupe, or any other in-season, bargain-priced fruit that makes your mouth water.

Silver Medalists: 40-79

Apples, pears, and bananas may look lowly next to guavas. Next to almost any other food, they’re stars.

Fruits with mid-range scores may not shine when it comes to carotenoids, but they’re good sources of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium often for fewer than 100 calories.

And some may offer more than their scores show. Cherries, figs, fresh pineapples, and lemons haven’t been analyzed for carotenoids, so we used estimates (based on their vitamin A levels).

What’s more, change a fruit’s serving size and you change its ranking. Eat a medium peach instead of the large size we used to come up with our score and you’ll get fewer nutrients.

Bronze Medalists: less than 40

The lowest scores go to canned or dried fruit. One reason is that both canning and drying deplete vitamin C.

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Still, dried prunes, currants, figs, and dates are good sources of fiber and potassium. Just watch the calories they add up quickly once you exceed our small serving sizes. And don’t forget your toothbrush: Dried fruit sticks to teeth.

Canned fruit can have other disadvantages. Peaches and pears lose points because their fiber-rich peel has been removed. And fruit packed in heavy or even light syrup has extra sugar (and calories) that most of us don’t need. Go for fruit canned in its own juice or water instead.

(Frozen fruits are comparable to fresh...but some contain added sugar.)

The bottom line: Any fruit is better than no fruit. You ll get more out of guava or grapefruit than applesauce or canned pears. But even the lowest-scoring fruit beats a Low Fat Twinkie, hands down.


The information for this article was compiled by Wendy Meltzer.

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