We all know eating fruit is good for us, but it can be hard to be motivated to do something just because we’re told to. In a way, the five-a-day campaign has put eating fruit in the same category as flossing or getting the car serviced regularly, which is unfortunate because eating fruit is infinitely more pleasurable than either. ‘Now is the time to fill your boots when it comes to local fruit,’ says food scientist and nutritionist Audrey Deane of Food Matters. ‘There is so much delicious seasonal fruit available in August – and you can freeze what you don’t eat and use it to keep going through the winter.’ All summer berries except strawberries freeze well.
The key is to keep things interesting and varied – eating fruit doesn’t have to be about dutifully forcing down a bland, cold-stored apple after a lunchtime sandwich anymore. Fruit in season now includes early apples and pears, blackberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, strawberries, bilberries, blueberries, loganberries, nectarines and redcurrants, and they are cheaper than at any other time of year, when they either have to be air-freighted to the UK or are grown here under glass, which uses lots of energy.
There are many misunderstandings about fruit. It doesn’t have to be fresh and raw to be healthy, for example, says Sarah Stanner, a nutritionist and spokesperson for The Nutrition Society.
‘Frozen, tinned and fresh fruit all count towards your five a day,’ she says. ‘As with frozen peas, frozen berries can be higher in nutrients than fresh ones, because they are frozen almost immediately and don’t degrade as much. And tinned fruit may not be quite as high in nutrients as fresh, but the nutrients aren’t all lost in the canning process either.’ Deane agrees: ‘Although canning can destroy vitamin C and maybe some B vitamins, tinned fruit is cheaper, more convenient and, because the tin holds the fruit in limbo, there won’t be any loss of remaining nutrients while it sits in the cupboard. I like to combine tinned and fresh, by chucking a tin of raspberries, say, in a fresh fruit smoothie.’
Similarly, juicing and cooking can remove or damage a fruit’s nutrients or fibre, but it will still count as one of your five. ‘Cook fruit as briefly as you can – steaming or microwaving is best.
Nutrients leach into water if you boil fruit, so if you do that, use the cooking liquor as a sauce,’ says Stanner. Juicing can mean the fruit’s sugars get into your bloodstream very quickly, as much of the fibre is lost. That’s not desirable all the time, as your body can convert those sugars to fat, but if you need energy, it can be good – if you’re exercising or want to be raring to go first thing in the morning, make some juice or blitz up a smoothie,’ says Deane.
Smoothies don’t have to be really sweet or creamy either, says nutritional therapist Alison Duker of nutrition consultancy Eat Better Now. ‘You don’t have to include dairy or even bananas,’ she says. ‘Water is fine, and you can add pecans, oats or almonds to thicken. If you want it creamier, I recommend mango rather than banana, as banana is quite starchy. One of my favourite smoothies is cucumber, which is high in zinc, with pear and fennel.’
There isn’t a single fruit that meets all our needs, either. A recent report from the US suggests some fruits, such as papaya, are better for us than more common ones, such as oranges, but Deane disagrees. ‘That’s splitting hairs, frankly. They are both fabulous.’ Stanner says, ‘We recommend eating a variety. All fruit contains different nutrients – and people who eat more of them are healthier.’ Duker adds, ‘It’s a good sign if a fruit stains your fingers. That tends to be linked to lots of nutrients, which can help quench potentially harmful free radicals.’
It is clear that fresh is best, if possible, and local fruit in season is even better. ‘Importing fruit from the other side of the world does mean the nutritional value will degrade in the time it takes to get here, so fruit from the UK is better, and from a pick-your-own is the best,’ says Duker. ‘Otherwise, you don’t know if the fruit was picked when it was unripe, sprayed, stored and then flown. We don’t always know how old the fruit we buy in the supermarket is, either. My clients are often surprised when I tell them that if they buy apples in winter, they might be up to a year old.’ How you store fruit is important. ‘Most fruit does better in the fridge, especially berries,’ says Duker. ‘But bananas and avocados need to be in the open air.’