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Does It Matter Which Fruit You Eat?

October 12, 2013
Ayala Laufer-Cahana, M.D.



Every decent guide for healthy eating encourages us to eat more fruits and veggies. Why? An abundance of fruits and veggies has been associated with lower risk of a whole range of conditions, from hypertension, to diabetes, cancer, heart disease and the metabolic syndrome.

Guidelines don't just encourage us to eat more plants, they suggest we eat a rainbow -- a variety of fruits and veggies. The latest superfruit trend has also hyped several supposedly high performers from the plant kingdom, touting their assumed powers above other humble non-exotic varieties.

Does fruit choice matter? Should we eat what we like, what's affordable and available, or should we carefully select specific, health promoting fruit?

Two new studies, just published, address this question. Let's take a look.

Quantity or quality?
When it comes to reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, some fruit are better than others, so concludes a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The researchers pooled the findings of three large studies, following the diet and disease of 185,000 people for more than 12 years. About 12,000 people developed diabetes during that time, and while people that ate more fruit also usually made other healthy lifestyle choices (like exercising more and eating fewer calories), after controlling for all these, the researchers found that specific whole fruit, especially blueberries, apples and grapes, where associated with lower risk of diabetes, while other fruit, such as strawberries and cantaloupe, less so.

Fruit juice, though, didn't confer the same protection. Greater fruit juice consumption was linked with greater risk of diabetes.

The other study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at fruit variety and coronary heart disease. This study followed a cohort of about 120,000 people for more than 20 years, during which about 6,000 developed heart disease. After controlling for other variables, this study found that the quantity of fruit was more important than the variety. The people who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a 17 percent lower risk of ischemic heart disease. But quantity aside, some fruits and veggies, such as citrus fruit and green leafy veggies, seemed to matter more -- as long as quantity was maintained.

Super- and miracle foods and plain old apples
A miracle, by definition, is something that happens very rarely (if at all). But nowadays, superfruit and miracle foods are "discovered" weekly, and incorporated into processed foods and plastered with health claims promising eternal life.

Plants are very clever biochemical machines, it seems like there are many more mysteries within their cell walls that we have yet to discover, and the more research we do, the more benefits we find. (The opposite can be said of the Western processed diet -- the more we explore its effect the more harm we find.) Not to take away from acai, blueberry, lingonberry and mangosteen, but most fruits and veggies, once studied, become super. The love-of-my-kitchen tomato was thought to be poisonous and evil, but is now a superfood because we discovered its health promoting lycopene.

It very well might be that certain fruits and veggies' benefits are more targeted to certain conditions, but since our understanding of this is still limited, I'd stick to a simple plan: eat more fruits and veggies and aim for variety, any variety. As long as you don't confuse whole fruit with fruit juice, and don't consider potatoes and corn to be major veggies, I think you'll be okay. Diet as a whole affects health -- profoundly -- but eating the latest fad miracle fruit, sensationalized by the media, is not likely to make much of a difference. Sorry, but shortcuts are improbable.

Bear in mind, superfruit is a marketing -- not a scientific -- term, invented by the food industry for the sole purpose of selling products. Here's my prediction: the fruits and veggies you like and eat anyway might have their moment of fame, and be rebranded as superfruit once studied, and you'll be able to say you believed in them all along.