Fruit is natural, loaded with fiber, and full of cancer-fighting antioxidants.
So it’s no surprise that fruit is a healthy snack.
Still, there are some important caveats you should be aware of to make sure you’re getting the greatest nutritional bang for your buck.
Here, 6 common slip-ups that could be messing with your healthy snack.
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Torn between a cup of pineapple or a bowl of blueberries?
While both contain good-for-you vitamins (pineapple is a good source of folate and vitamin B6, and blueberries are chock-full of fiber and vitamin C), they have very different amounts of carbs, sugar, and fiber.
“The fruits that are best are those that have the highest levels of polyphenols [chemicals that fight inflammation] and the lowest glycemic index,” says Barry Sears, M.D., author of The Mediterranean Zone.
The glycemic index (GI) refers to how quickly (or slowly) a food will increase your blood glucose levels; lower GI fruits are generally better picks because they’re digested more slowly, so they won’t spike your blood sugar levels and will keep you full longer.
A sure-fire winner: berries, which are high in polyphenols and have a low GI value.
“As a whole, most fruits that are darker in color, like dark-skinned grapes, are richer in antioxidants and contain less sugar per serving than lighter colored fruits, such as bananas and melons,” says Keith Kantor, Ph.D., a nutritionist and author of the Green Box Foods League of Nutritious Justice.
Is your belly growling and dinner’s still a few hours away? Or do you just want a little something to sate your sweet tooth?
Sort it out before deciding what to munch on.
A large apple, for example, has 120 calories, but a small one only has 53.
Meanwhile, don’t make the mistake of (literally) comparing apples and oranges when making your selection: A large orange and a small apple have about the same number of calories, says Suzanne Fisher, R.D.N., a Florida-based dietitian.
Confused? You can quickly compare nutritional info by visiting a site like CalorieKing.
While a piece of fruit by itself is certainly way better than a candy bar, it still has the potential to make your blood sugar rise and then crash.
Pairing it with some protein—say, a piece of cheese or a dab of nut butter—eliminates that problem, says Dr. Sears.
“The fruit will increase insulin levels, and the protein increases the hormone glucagon. These two hormones work together to stabilize blood sugar levels.” (Try these creamy, dreamy nut butter smoothie recipes.)
It’s especially important to eat some protein with your fruit if you’re diabetic or prediabetic; otherwise you may start to feel symptoms of hyperglycemia, such as a rapid heartbeat.
Yes, it costs more, but many experts think it’s worth it—at least when it comes to certain varieties.
David Nico, Ph.D., author of Diet Diagnosis, suggests buying organic versions of apples, grapes, and other fruits that are known to be higher in pesticides.
Juice—whether it’s out of a bottle or from a trendy juice bar—doesn’t contain the fibrous parts of the fruit, and “fiber is what slows the release of glucose in the bloodstream,” says Nico.
You’re much better off eating a whole piece of fruit or even (occasionally) having a smoothie, because the entire fruit goes into the blender.
He also cautions against dried fruit: As with juice, it’s easy to overdo it (how easy is it to drink two glasses or eat a whole bag of dried apricots?).
Plus, it often contains preservatives and added sugars.