Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
21 Jul

Dear Mark: Best Fruit Choices

BerriesDear Mark,

Right now there are so many kinds of fruit in season at the local farmers’ market. I know that we should limit fruit consumption and that some fruits offer more nutrition and higher antioxidants than others. I live alone and can’t afford to fill my small fridge with 20 different kinds of produce, so I need to make choices sometimes and want to buy greater amounts of highly nutritious food and lesser amounts of moderately nutritious food for variety.

Thanks to reader Patricia for the timely question. Of course, variety is healthy, but it’s true that some fruits will offer you more nutritional bang for your buck. A great resource for checking the antioxidant power of different fruits (and veggies, herbs, etc.) is the ORAC report (PDF), ORAC standing for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It’s a database of antioxidant levels compiled by scientists at the National Institutes of Health, specifically the National Institute on Aging. The ORAC method isn’t the final say on antioxidant measurement, but it provides a useful measure overall and an impressively comprehensive list of foods.

For example, the highest ratings per 100 grams among fruits go mostly to berries: acai, chokeberries, elderberries, cranberries, wild blueberries, black currants, blackberries and raspberries. Prunes and plums rate within this group as well. Nutritionally, these are all great bets. Apples, figs, dates, strawberries, and cherries all do very respectably as well. Further down the list you find more of the citrus fruits, melons and tropical fruits.


But I’d suggest considering more than just ORAC values when choosing fruit. For me, the glycemic index and glycemic load fit into the picture as well. Obviously, I want to keep my carb intake low. In doing so, I look at where the two priorities intersect: nutrition and low GL. I should mention here that glycemic load offers can tell you more in this instance than glycemic index. The GI rating measures the effect of a food on blood sugar relative to pure glucose. The GL takes into account how much of the carbohydrate is in the food. A watermelon, for example, has a high GI but a relatively low GL because it’s mostly water. I’d suggest checking out this chart that includes GI and GL levels for fruits and other foods. For GI, high is considered 70-100, moderate 50-70, and low less than 50. For GL, 20+ is high, 11-19 is moderate and 10 or less is low. As you can see, dates have a high ORAC value, but they’re also sky high in terms of GI and GL (103; 42). Figs, perhaps surprisingly, offer a better choice at 61 and 16 respectively. Nonetheless, berries and cherries offer the best choices with not just high ORAC values but low glycemic measures (around 40 and 1-3 respectively). An interesting note: the glycemic measures of a fruit fluctuate based on country of origin and the particular variety (e.g. a golden delicious apple not surprisingly being higher than a braeburn).

Here are a few of my suggestions for fruits that have the best overlap between low GI/GL and high antioxidant activity.

I’d recommend berries and cherries, preferably wild, as the best option overall. You can buy them fresh or frozen year round or freeze your own during summer season. Weighing in at about 12-15 grams of carbs a serving, I don’t see any reason these can’t be a daily choice if you’re a fruit lover. Good second choices (decent in glycemic measures, a bit less on the ORAC scale) include apples and pears in fall and winter, and peaches and plums in summer. For more on fruit seasons, check out this link.

Peaches, Nectarines

Other fruits, including bananas, figs, and citrus, I’d put in the occasional category. (However, I do use splashes of citrus in flavorings and marinades.) As far as prunes, dates, melons and most of the tropical fruits (higher in glycemic measures, lower in ORAC values), I generally avoid them, but they can be Sensible Vices in small quantities.

And, of course, whole fruits are better than the juice, and organic fruits tend to have higher antioxidant activity than conventional. The same can be said for wild varieties.

Thanks for your questions, and keep ‘em coming!

mccun934, justinknol, beest Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Antioxidants and the Stress of Eating

Measuring Up: How to Calculate the Quality and Quantity of Antioxidant-Rich Foods

The Best Low-Carb Fruits (and Worst)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. “the highest ratings per 100 grams among fruits go mostly to berries: acai, chokeberries, elderberries, cranberries, wild blueberries, black currants, blackberries and raspberries”.
    I am especially keen on blueberries. I like to put blueberries in the freezer and when I am ready to consume them, I put them in a bowl and run hot water over them creating a “mushy” texture.
    There is nothing better than mushy blueberries!

    james wrote on July 21st, 2008
  2. James, I agree with you on the blueberries, but mushy?! I’ve got to eat mine whole and raw or not at all. They’ve become my staple dessert. I usually pour some half & half over them and then use a touch of Splenda (gasp! the horror!) to sweeten it up a notch.

    Marty wrote on July 21st, 2008
  3. I noticed that the information listed in the chart for figs was for dried figs. Do you know if the GI/GL profile is more favorable for fresh figs?

    Sally wrote on July 21st, 2008
  4. Aaron wrote on July 21st, 2008
  5. Whoever said you couldn’t eat fruit on the Primal Blueprint?!

    32Simon wrote on July 21st, 2008
  6. This is an interesting topic that I have considered and struggled with from a logical point of view for quite some time. Hopefully, someone here can shed some light on this topic for me.

    The issue is that Grok ate whatever was available and did not consider GI or GL before diving-in and even gorging himself on whatever was available. From this, are we to assume that citrus, melons, bananas etc were less readily available than lower GL foods? I understand that the paleo world was large and diverse in terms of climate and consequent vegetation. However, it seems that if Grok was living in a warmer climate that more tropical fruits would be available in abundance.

    It seems that a true paleo diet would consist of eating foods that Grok ate and not paying attention to the GL of various foods.

    primalman wrote on July 21st, 2008
    • I know it’s 4 years later, but maybe it could help you if I were to offer my opinion, in case you haven’t found your answer yet.

      Citrus, melons, bananas, etc, may have been/still are available in tropical regions, but one needs to keep in mind that these fruits may be different in their wild state, more than likely not as abundant as at a fruit market, and that local tribes growing up in this environment can handle higher loads of sugar. There’s nothing that says that carbohydrate is necessarily bad for you, it is only the case that we have been demolishing our bodies with excessive intake. (Tribes that aren’t used to starch, for example, have insulin spikes when they eat it, but tribes that are used to it have no insulin spikes).

      Also, if there’s any truth to origins having an impact on health, keep in mind, that if you are of European descent, these tropical foods would not have been available in the region in which your ancestors have evolved, and the limited berries and small fruits that were available would not have been as readily available in the winter either. (Also many fruits/veggies available today in Europe (such as Apples and Tomatoes) have other origins, such as Asia.

      Brian Kozmo wrote on March 5th, 2012
  7. How about mango? We had some fresh mango this weekend that was so good it just has to be bad for you.

    John's Weight Loss Blog wrote on July 22nd, 2008
  8. The thing to remember about fruit is that it is seasonal (or at least, it was) and so probably was not eaten year-round by prehistoric man for more than a few months a year. The flip side to this, however, is that prehistoric man was very inactive during the winter months. I doubt most of us take 4-6 months off from our exercising and weightlifting routines each year to simulate “hibernation”, so I think we can justify a little bit more fruit to cover the extra energy expenditure. For tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapples, etc, seasonal is definitely the way to go.

    As for melons, though: doesn’t it take almost half a cantaloupe to provide enough GL to move your blood sugar at all? Slightly frozen melon with cinnamon, flax, seed, and kefir makes a great dessert, btw.

    What are your thoughts on bananas, other than just placing them in the occasional category? I generally only eat them post work out (usually slightly frozen with almond butter) but I’d be curious to hear your opinion, specifically about the conversion from fructose to sucrose as they ripen and how that could be good or bad.

    Keenan wrote on July 22nd, 2008
  9. Thanks for the comments and questions, Keenan. We’ll keep them in mind when constructing future posts. Thanks again. Your comments are always welcome additions to the boards.

    Aaron wrote on July 22nd, 2008
  10. Mark, why don’t you use Stevia? I use the powdered organic, the one that has 905 servings per bottle. It has no bitter taste and it is all natural. Actually, it’s an herb.

    Peggy wrote on August 6th, 2009
    • I heard wonderful things about Stevia before I tried it. I was hoping I could use it to sweeten my coffee, but as it turned out it took way more than it should have to get it decently sweet and then it made the stuff taste like grass. *blech*

      GeriMorgan wrote on August 6th, 2009
  11. “…the highest ratings per 100 grams among fruits go mostly to berries: acai, chokeberries, elderberries, cranberries, wild blueberries, black currants, blackberries and raspberries. Prunes and plums rate within this group as well. Nutritionally, these are all great bets.”

    Pretty strong endorsement of prunes: “…highest ratings…great bets”.

    “As far as prunes, dates, melons and most of the tropical fruits (higher in glycemic measures, lower in ORAC values), I generally avoid them, but they can be Sensible Vices in small quantities.”

    Seems like awfully faint praise for prunes: “…generally avoid them…Sensible Vices in small quantities”

    Which emphasis is the dominant one?

    Prunes are attractive, because they are reputed to be on a par with berries (as in the first quote above) while usually being much cheaper.

    JBG wrote on March 29th, 2010
  12. I agree on the prunes; very high ORAC value! But there is something else that bothers me : fructose. I am a bit surprised it didn’t come up in the article. I select my fruit on the amount of fructose and glucose/fructose ratio. Fructose is poison and messes up the liver. And it creates uric acid as a by-product. Uric acid is THE agent in gout. So apples and bananas are a big no for me. Anybody agree?

    André wrote on July 16th, 2010
  13. If you hike the PCT you will find out why we all LOVE huckleberries. Generally the bushes provide raw snacks in Oregon and Washington during August.

    hiker wrote on October 30th, 2010
    • And Idaho! :)

      Smileee2 wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  14. The bright colors of many fruits are actually another source of benefits of fruit. The pigments that make blueberries blue and cranberries red are actually something called phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are extremely powerful antioxidants that help protect your body against cancer-causing free radicals and may slow down some of the effects of aging.

    São Paulo Para-brisa Reparo wrote on December 9th, 2010
  15. I allow myself 3 servings of fruit a day…regardless of the glycemic index.
    Whatever fruit it is I always add a glass of raw goat milk to it.

    3 servings of fruit would be 1 whole banana (2 servings) and a handful of blueberries.
    Or half a mango and 1 orange.
    Or 2 little mandarines and a handful of berries.

    Suvetar wrote on April 13th, 2011
  16. I eat loads of watermelon and cantalope?
    Is that a bad thing?
    I am 87 years old and in good health.

    Ginny Nokes wrote on August 21st, 2011
  17. It should be mentioned that elderberries are poisonous before they are fully ripe and that their seeds are always toxic. They are delicious and make wonderful teas and honey extractions — but not something you go pick off the tree and eat by the fistful!

    Wren wrote on September 27th, 2011
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    Symptoms of Wisdom Teeth wrote on November 7th, 2011
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