FRUIT - Something Good That's Not Illegal,
Immoral or Fattening

by Marian Segal

Is New York the Big Potato? Is life just a bowl of sweet peas? Was Nellie Forbush as normal as sweet potato pie? Of course not. We're talking about fruit, here - apples, cherries, blueberries, peaches, oranges, melons, grapes - the foods that are good for you and taste good, too. Fruits are an important part of a well-balanced diet. They provide fiber and some vitamins and minerals essential to good health. Best of all, most people like fruit, countering the myth that anything good is either illegal, immoral or fattening.


Fruits contain carbohydrates and a small amount of protein, but very little, if any, fat. (Most fruits contain less than one gram of fat per serving. Avocados are an exception, with about 31 grams per fruit.) Carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and fats are the primary sources of energy (calories) in the diet. Calories in fruits come mostly from simple carbohydrates; that is, sugars such as fructose, sucrose and glucose. Compared with the early 1900s, Americans today eat more fatty foods and fewer starchy foods, such as breads and other grain products. This trend has doubtlessly helped to contribute pounds and pounds to the shapes of our citizens, because, ounce for ounce, fats contain more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates. In Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services recommend reversing the trend, advising that Americans avoid too much fat and eat more foods with fiber and starch, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables such as dried beans and peas, and fruits.


Of all these foods, fruits have the distinction of being called "nature's own desserts." This is a fitting appellation because, according to a 1987 survey by Market Facts, Inc., snack time is when 43 percent of the people surveyed said they most often ate fresh fruit. Lunch, breakfast, and dinner followed at 22 percent, 20 percent, and 14 percent, respectively. The survey also showed that people are eating more fruit than they were a year ago, and the number one reason is snacking, cited by 79 percent of the respondents. Other reasons given were concerns about a well-balanced diet (73 percent), nutrition (61 percent), and calories (61 percent), and getting good value for the money (48 percent).


Bananas, apples, and seedless grapes are the most popular snack fruits, in that order. Kiwi fruit leads the list of fruits people tried for the very first time in 1986, followed by mangoes, papayas, and Granny Smith apples.

Grapes are the leading fruit crop of the world and the number two crop in the United States. But the majority (57 percent) of grapes grown in this country end up in wine bottles instead of fresh fruit bowls.

Although playing second fiddle to grapes in world production, the fruit that is the top banana of fruit sales in American supermarkets is - you guessed it - the banana.

Coming in third in world fruit production is the apple. There are 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide, with 2,500 varieties available in the United States. The colonists introduced the apple to North America in the 1620's, and the United States is now the second largest producer of this fruit, after the Soviet Union.

Bananas are the most popular fresh fruit in the United States. They have a peel that comes off easily, they ripen after they've been picked, there is a generous supply all year, and they are inexpensive. Bananas have both a high amount of carbohydrates as well as potassium, which also makes them the fruit of choice for many athletes.
(Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, 1992).

Serving size 1/2 cup, sliced (75g)
Amounts Per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 70  
Calories from Fat 0  
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Potassium 400mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 17g 6%
  Dietary Fiber 9g 8%
  Sugars 21g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 10%
Calcium 0%
Iron 2%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.



Avoid bananas with brown spots that seem very soft. Select those bananas with a nice color, specific for the variety. Choose fruit that is firm and free of bruises. Best eating quality has been reached when the solid yellow skin color is speckled with brown. Bananas with green tips or with practically no yellow color have not developed their full flavor. Bananas are overripe when they have a strong odor.


To further ripen bananas leave at room temperature for a couple of days. Once ripe you can store in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. The peel may turn brown in the refrigerator, but the fruit will not change.


The very popular yellow banana of Cavendish is the banana we see in grocery stores. However, Plantains, Finger Bananas and Red Bananas are also popular varieties. Most have a soft texture when ripe.

The apple can be traced back to the Romans and Egyptians who introduced them to Britain and finally to America. Today, Americans eat about 120 apples apiece each year. At least 50% of the domestic crop is used in items we use every day such as, applesauce, juice, jellies, pies and other popular desserts. (Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, 1992).

Serving size 1  medium (154g)
Amounts Per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 80  
Calories from Fat 0 0
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 22g 7%
  Dietary Fiber 5g 18%
  Sugars 16g
Protein 0g
Vitamin A 2%
Vitamin C 8%
Calcium 0%
Iron 2%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.



Choose apples that are firm with no soft spots. Avoid apples that are discolored for their variety.


Keep apples in plastic bags in the refrigerator after purchasing to prevent further ripening. Apples should keep up to six weeks. However, check apples often and remove any apples that begin to decay or the others will do the same.


Wash apples well with soap and rinse with water. Prepare apple dishes just before serving to minimize browning (oxidation). Protect cut apples from oxidation by dipping them into a solution of one part citrus juice and three parts water.

The grape is one of the oldest fruits to be cultivated going back as far as biblical times. Spanish explorers introduced the fruit to America approximately 300 years ago. Some of the most popular ways in which the fruit is used, is eaten fresh, in preserves or canned in jellies, dried into raisins, and crushed for juice or wine. Although, machines have taken the place of much handwork, table grapes are still harvested by hand in many places. (Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, 1992). 

Grapes are about 80 percent water, making them a delectable low-calorie snack or dessert; a cup of Concord or Catawba grapes contains only about 60 calories Grapes also add fiber to the diet and are naturally low in sodium. Raisins, or dried grapes, contain only about 15 percent water. For this reason, nutrients and calories are more concentrated in raisins-one cup contains 464 calories! Like other dried fruit, raisins are a good source of iron. Serving Size 1-1/2 cups (138g/14.9oz)


Serving Size 1½ cup red or green grapes (80g)
Amounts Per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 60
Calories from Fat 0
Total Fat 0g 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 14g 5%
  Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
  Sugars 12g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A 2%
Vitamin C 15%
Calcium 0%
Iron 2%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.


Grapes come in more than 50 varieties in black, blue, blue-black, golden, red, green, purple, and white colors with a juicy pulp inside. The two main types of grapes are the American and European. They both come in seeded and seedless varieties. Common varieties include Thompson, Flame, Ruby, Perlette and Tokay grapes. Most U.S. grapes are grown in California.

Selecting Grapes

Look for firm, plump, well-colored clusters of grapes that are securely attached to their green stems. Fully ripe grapes are soft and tender. Grapes showing signs of decay, shriveling, stickiness, brown spots or dry brittle stems should be avoided. Blue Concord grapes are excellent for table use and for making juice and jelly. The large, purplish-red catawba variety is used primarily for making juice and wine, but can also be served fresh for eating.

Using and Preserving Grapes

Fresh Facts

  • Fresh grapes maintain good quality for two to three days in the refrigerator. Store in a covered container or plastic bag.
  • Just before use, wash grape clusters under a gentle spray of water, drain and pat dry. 
  • Table grapes are at their best served slightly chilled to enhance their crisp texture and refreshing flavor. 
  • Seedless grapes are used whole. For seeded grapes, remove seeds by cutting grapes into halves lengthwise and scooping out seeds with the point of a knife. 
  • Grapes are easier to peel when they're frozen. Just rinse frozen grapes in lukewarm water until skins split. Skins will then slip right off. 
  • When preparing small clusters of grapes for garnishing, cut the clusters with scissors. This helps keep the grapes attached to the stem. 
  • For longer storage, grapes can be canned, frozen or made into juice or sweet spreads to enhance meals throughout the year. Grapes can be dried as raisins for use as a snack or in baking. 

Canned Facts

  • Seedless grapes can be canned whole for use in fruit salads and molded gelatin desserts. If seeded varieties are used, halve and remove seeds before canning. 
  • To prevent mold growth, seal grape jelly with two-piece canning lids and process for five minutes in a simmering water bath. 

Freezer Facts

  • Frozen grape juice is of excellent quality—serve it alone or mixed with other juices. Freeze a few grape "popsicles" for an icy summer treat. 
  • Freeze grape puree for use in making grape pie and to flavor yogurt. 
  • Tray freeze seedless grapes and store them in freezer containers. When summer temperatures sizzle, chill summer drinks with "grape" ice cubes. 
  • For an easy, refreshing summer dessert, serve tray frozen grapes in a chilled glass bowl. 

Dried Facts

  • The quality of dried grapes, or raisins, is excellent. 
  • For best results, use seedless grapes. If seeded varieties are used, remove seeds as described under Fresh Facts before drying.
  • In areas of high humidity, sun drying is not recommended. For best results, dry grapes in a dehydrator or oven.

Click here for nutrition table for 7,248 foods.


Why eat berries instead of bonbons? Because fruits contribute fiber and nutrients to the diet, as well as sweetness - and all that without adding lots of calories.

Peaches, apricots, cantaloupes, bananas, nectarines, mangoes and watermelon are sources of carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, an essential vitamin.

Grapefruits, oranges and other citrus fruits and juices, melons, berries, papayas, and kiwi fruit are sources of vitamin C. Among other things, vitamin C helps bind body cells together and increase iron consumption from foods.

Dried fruits - raisins, dates, prunes, and dried apricots - are good sources of iron and potassium; bananas, oranges, and other fruits also provide potassium. Iron combines with protein to make hemoglobin, which carries the oxygen in red blood cells from the lungs to cells throughout the body.

Many fruits also provide folic acid and magnesium. Folic acid is essential for several chemical processes in the body, including synthesis of the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, and formation of certain amino acids and hemoglobin. Magnesium is involved in cellular metabolism, protein digestion, and nervous system functions.

Recommended Books About Fruits

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects

The Big Book of Juices and Smoothies: 365 Natural Blends for Health and Vitality Every Day

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits

The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs Gift Card


Eating fruit is a good way to add dietary fiber, too. Fiber is the parts of plants that are not digested by humans. The undigested food residue forms bulk for the stool. The skin, seeds and pulp in fruits contribute dietary fiber.

Eating foods high in fiber can promote normal bowel function and is useful in the prevention and treatment of constipation. On the basis of potential benefits, an expert panel of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has recommended a dietary fiber intake range of 20 to 35 grams per day or 10 to 13 grams per 1,000 calories for healthy adults. (The panel emphasized that this range of intakes may not be appropriate for children, the elderly, or persons on special diets.)

Data on the dietary fiber content of foods are incomplete, but it is known that the American diet is relatively low in fiber. At a USDA/FDA-sponsored conference on food safety and nutrition held in Washington, D.C., in October 1987, Susan Welsh, director of USDA's Nutrition Education Division, cited a 1986 USDA survey showing that women aged 19 to 50 consume an average of 12 grams of fiber a day, with only 1 in 20 women consuming 20 grams. A 1985 USDA survey found that men are doing better at 18 grams a day, but are still below the range recommended by FASEB.

In addition, in all but 12 percent of the women in the 1986 survey, fat intake averaged 37 percent of total daily calories, exceeding the 30 percent level advised by both the National Cancer Institute and the American Heart Association. High-fat (especially saturated fats) and high-cholesterol diets can contribute to an elevated blood cholesterol level, which is a risk factor for heart disease. There is some indication that some forms of dietary fiber may play a role in helping to lower blood cholesterol. It's not yet known whether fiber extracted from food has the same effect as that from intact food, and different forms of fiber have varying physiological effects. The USDA/HHS guidelines and the FASEB panel both advise that the best way to increase fiber intake is to eat a variety of foods and more of those that contain fiber.

The health news about fruit gets better and better because, besides providing some vitamins, minerals and fiber, fruits have no cholesterol and little or no fat or sodium. Whole fresh fruits provide the most fiber. For example, a whole apple with peel provides two grams of fiber, while one-half cup of applesauce provides 0.65 gram of fiber, and three-quarters of a cup of apple juice supplies only 0.25 gram of fiber.


Processing fruits can cause some nutrient losses. Current information is limited, and variations can occur depending on the product and the processing conditions. Freezing, canning and drying can result in variable losses of vitamin C and vitamin A. Also, canned and frozen fruits are often packed in sweetened syrups, which add extra calories. However, more and more fruits are being packed in water, juice or light syrup.

In defense of canning, National Food Processors Association vice president Roger Coleman claims in the July 1987 issue of the trade magazine Progressive Grocer that "one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about canned fruit is that it is full of additives and less nutritious than fresh fruit." He notes that fresh fruits can lose a lot of nutrients between the time they are picked and when they reach the table. However, proper handling both in shipment and at home can help reduce such losses. In the same article, Dan Thornton, marketing manager at Tri/Valley Growers, San Francisco, points out increasing consumer interest in low-sugar, low-calorie products. This is evidenced by a 17.8 percent increase in sales of "light" fruit in cans over 1986, and their 24 percent share of all canned fruit sales.

Consumers should read labels carefully, though. Although the word "light" or "lite" on a food label often means it is low or reduced in calories, it can refer to other properties of the food. In canned fruit, "light" syrup refers to its density, determined by the amount of liquid and sweeteners used.

FDA has established standards of identity that apply to many processed fruit products. They include requirements for what may be identified as a particular canned fruit, fruit juice, fruit jelly, or frozen fruit pie, for example, and also requirements for how these foods are to be labeled. In addition, the agency sets minimum standards of quality for some canned fruits, with specific attention, for example, to tenderness, color, and freedom from defects. Other standards regulate how full a container must be to avoid deceptive practices.

Dried fruits have a high concentration of sugar because most of their water content has been removed. Also, drying fruits can destroy vitamin C and carotene unless they are sulfured first, a process in which the fruit is exposed to fumes from burning sulfur or dipped in a sulfate solution. (Sulfites can cause allergic reactions, so people sensitive to these preservatives should read ingredient labels carefully. FDA has required since January 1987 that sulfites be listed on ingredient labels of packaged foods that contain them.)

When buying fresh fruits, consumers should look for bruising because the chemical reactions that occur from bruising cause loss of some nutrients. Nutrients can also be lost by paring, slicing or dicing fruits. Little Bobby may be fascinated by Mom's talent for paring an apple with one continuous intact peel, but without the peel, Bobby's not getting the most from that apple. In fact, the area just under the skin of fruits is usually richer in nutrients than the insides. Slicing, dicing, chopping and mashing can also rob fruits of some of their vitamins by exposing the surfaces to air and light. Breaking up the cells of fruits can account for a significant loss of some vitamins, and the longer the fruit stands, the greater the loss.

Almost any way you cut it, though, fruit has a lot to offer in terms of good taste and good nutrition.

Marian Segal is a member of FDA's public affairs staff.


  • Select fresh fruits that have no signs of bruising.

  • Most fresh fruits are perishable and should be refrigerated.

  • Use fresh fruits quickly to avoid spoilage and waste.

  • Store canned fruits in a cool (best if below 85 degrees Fahrenheit), clean, dry place.

  • Fruits that are cut up should be served just after preparing to prevent vitamin loss.

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