The Health Benefits of Fruit
Do you like your fruit as much as this little girl?
Well, it made me laugh!
But seriously, although fruit is nature’s food and is rich in vitamins and minerals, not all people with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia or an autoimmune disorder are good with all fruit for the following reasons:
Most chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia sufferers are sodium deficient and eating fruit (which is naturally rich in potassium) exacerbates this situation making the sufferer feel generally less than good.
Fruit with a ‘bloom’ such as grapes and plums and the various varieties of melon tend to be high in yeasts and since most chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia sufferers have issues around candidal overgrowth and are sensitised to yeasts these foods can also prove problematic.
The citrus fruits whilst acidic actually rapidly create alkaline conditions within the body which can mobilise acids causing an adverse reaction. The citrus fruits are also the only fruits to occupy a slot in the top 10 food allergens so are best avoided if you have multiple food intolerances as many chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia sufferers do.
Dried fruits are best avoided because they are high in sugar (i.e.: have a high glycaemic index or GI) and yeast and also are often treated with sulphur dioxide to prevent oxidation and discolouration of the fruit. They also lose much of their vitamin C in the drying process.
Fruit smoothies and other fruit juices whilst containing many nutrients have been stripped of the fibre and pulp of the whole fruit and so have a high GI and often contain orange juice too, which may be problematic for chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia sufferers.
The importance of fruit and vegetables
Whilst debate rages even among nutritionists as to the merits or otherwise of eating grains and animal proteins, the one thing they are all agreed upon is the value of eating a diet containing a rich variety of fruits and vegetables. The protective effect of eating a vegetarian diet may actually be due to the larger quantities of fruits and vegetables consumed rather than to having excluded meat and fish. The following is designed to clear up some of the rather confusing terms that are often bandied about with regards to the beneficial effects of fruit and vegetables. However, first you need to understand about free radicals, so we will start our journey there.
Free radicals are charged particles created in our bodies naturally as a by-product of the processes of energy production. They are destructive molecules which can create damage such as punching holes in cell walls, turning the fats within the body rancid and causing mutations of the DNA. They are now believed to be the underlying unifying basis of all chronic and inflammatory diseases and to be responsible for the processes of ageing. The amount of free radicals we produce is dependent upon our exposure to insults such as pollutants, chemicals, drugs (pharmaceutical and recreational), cigarette smoke, pesticides and radioactivity. Fortunately, the body can combat the damage caused by free radicals (within reason) using antioxidants.
Phytonutrients in fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables contain phytonutrients or phytochemicals which is the broad term given to substances that, whilst not being essential, are thought to have some therapeutic value. Phytonutrients help to maintain an efficient immune system, reduce inflammation and symptoms of allergies, aid detoxification and prevent cancer. Many of these compounds have been known about and used for millenia such as the pharmaceutical drug, aspirin, which is derived from the anti-inflammatory properties of willow bark. Our understanding of the complexity of this subject is probably fairly rudimentary with thousands more phytonutrients, it is thought, yet to be discovered.
The role of antioxidants
Many phytonutrients are antioxidants and this refers to the mechanisms that the plants have developed for responding to the destructive effects of free radical formation to which they are also subjected. Many of these antioxidants are plant pigments that can donate electrons without sustaining damage thus preventing the cascade of destructive effects created by the free radicals. Some of these antioxidants work in the fatty components of the body and some in the water components and there is a complex interaction between the two and probably between different compounds. Antioxidants include the carotenoids and the polyphenols.
Antioxidants: The carotenoids
The carotenoids are a group of over 600 orange and yellow pigments which are found in fruit and vegetables and which may be present, but masked, in dark green vegetables. They are believed to have anti-cancer properties and the best known members include:
Lycopene which is found in tomatoes and other fruits such as watermelons and papaya is thought to protect against cancer.
Lutein which is particularly rich in dark fruits such as black currants is an antioxidant which works in the fatty compartments of the body and is thought to protect against macular degeneration.
Betacarotene is found in orange fruits such as mango and papaya and is also a fat soluble antioxidant and vitamin A precursor. It is thought to particularly protect the cardiovascular system and to have anticancer properties.
There are over 4,000 types of polyphenols and these are the yellow and red/blue pigments found in the skins of red and purple fruits such as grapes (and thus grape juice and red wine) and also in apples. An important category in this group are the flavonoids which are described below.
Flavonoids or bioflavonoids are required for the absorption of vitamin C and are particularly considered to have anticancer properties and to exert protective effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. There are 2 main groups:
Anthocyanins are found in high quantities in fruits such as cranberries and are thought to have anti-tumour and antibacterial actions in addition to acting as potent antioxidants within the eye and helping to prevent the formation of cataracts.
Proanthocyanins are found in dark fruits such as berries and also apples and are thought to beneficially affect the body’s response to allergens, viruses and tumours.
The beneficial properties of fruit
The following shows the particular benefits of the fruit listed.
Antibacterial Apple, banana, blueberry, cranberry, lime, papaya, plums, watermelon
Anticancer Berries, citrus, melon, papaya
Anticoagulant Grapes, melon, watermelon
Antioxidant Apricot, berries, pink grapefruit, red grapes, orange, watermelon
Antiviral Apple, blackcurrant, blueberry, cranberry, gooseberry, grapes, grapefruit, melon, orange, pineapple, plums, raspberries, strawberries
Cholesterol lowering Apple, grapefruit
Anti-inflammatory Apple, blueberry, cherries, orange, pineapple, prunes, raspberries
The benefits of fruit: Summary
The nutritional value of the fruits and vegetables eaten depends upon how they have been grown, stored and shipped. The whole subject of the beneficial effects of these foods, as you see, is a subject in and of itself, but the important thing to understand is that different pigments have different properties and that the darker the pigment, the better. So it is important to try and eat fruits and vegetables in as many different colours as possible to benefit from the protective effects of the antioxidants that they contain. So try and eat the rainbow every day!
For books on the topic of diet, see under Natural Recovery in the Recommended Reading section. For a comprehensive approach to detoxification and diet refer to The Natural Recovery Plan book.