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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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July 21, 2008

Dear Mark: Best Fruit Choices

By Mark Sisson
71 Comments

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.

Apples

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)

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71 Comments on "Dear Mark: Best Fruit Choices"

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james
james
8 years 2 months ago

“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!

Marty
Marty
8 years 2 months ago

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.

Sally
Sally
8 years 2 months ago

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?

Aaron
8 years 2 months ago
32Simon
32Simon
8 years 2 months ago

Whoever said you couldn’t eat fruit on the Primal Blueprint?!

primalman
primalman
8 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Brian Kozmo
Brian Kozmo
4 years 6 months ago
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… Read more »
John's Weight Loss Blog
8 years 2 months ago

How about mango? We had some fresh mango this weekend that was so good it just has to be bad for you.

Keenan
8 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Aaron
8 years 2 months ago

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.

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[…] Dear Mark: Best Fruit Choices – July 21 […]

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[…] cherries are in high season right now: ripe, luscious and juicy, not to mention packed with vitamins and antioxidants. There’s just no good reason to smother all that goodness with sugar and a pie crust, especially […]

Peggy
Peggy
7 years 1 month ago

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.

GeriMorgan
7 years 1 month ago

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*

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[…] frugivorous hominoid that may be a common ancestor), we modern Primals do eat reasonable amounts of certain fruits. The areas where we virulently disagree – on saturated fat (and dietary fat in general), on red […]

JBG
JBG
6 years 5 months ago
“…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… Read more »
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[…] to lose weight. Tailor your fruit intake to your desired Primal carb intake. As luck would have it, higher ORAC level fruits also tend to be lower on the glycemic scale. Berries and cherries generally offer the most antioxidant bang with the least carb buck. Check out […]

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[…] on the road) and try to get them from non-grain sources (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, veggies, fruit, etc.). I have a question about recovery. I play competitive ultimate frisbee and most of our […]

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[…] for this moment for months, if not years. You’ve been eating meat, vegetables, roots, and fruit, molding your body and stoking your furnace with healthy fat, appropriate amounts of glucose, and […]

André
André
6 years 2 months ago

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?

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[…] for this moment for months, if not years. You’ve been eating meat, vegetables, roots, and fruit, molding your body and stoking your furnace with healthy fat, appropriate amounts of glucose, and […]

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[…] Panu, says that most fruits are like candies. He definitely recommends to eat them in moderation. Mark Sisson tends to recommend eating fruits that are low in carbohydrates and high in antioxidants. He also […]

hiker
hiker
5 years 10 months ago

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.

Smileee2
Smileee2
1 year 11 months ago

And Idaho! 🙂

São Paulo Para-brisa Reparo
5 years 9 months ago

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.

Suvetar
Suvetar
5 years 5 months ago

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.

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[…] should eat lots of vegetables. You shouldn’t eat lots of fruit.Choose wild fruit when you can.Berries are generally lower in sugar than other fruitsAnd finally …Fruit is seasonal — eat it that wayAny fruit you eat will […]

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5 years 3 months ago

[…] happen to have a low glycemic load and tons of health […]

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Ginny Nokes
Ginny Nokes
5 years 1 month ago

I eat loads of watermelon and cantalope?
Is that a bad thing?
I am 87 years old and in good health.
Ginny

Wren
Wren
4 years 11 months ago

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!

Symptoms of Wisdom Teeth
4 years 10 months ago

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framistat
framistat
1 year 2 months ago

How did this one get through the spam filter…

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[…] I övrigt gäller förstås samma råd som för grönsaker. Köp helst närodlat och i säsong, och välj gärna sorter som ligger lägre i glykemiskt index och högre i antioxidanter. Tänk också på att frukt och […]

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[…] to get around) who describes her transformative experience with a dairy-free Paleo diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meat and organs, and seaweed. Relegated to and totally dependent on a […]

invest liberty reserve
4 years 7 months ago

Healthiest Fruits | Mark's Daily Apple I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my problem. You’re incredible! Thanks! your article about Healthiest Fruits | Mark's Daily AppleBest Regards Agata

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[…] I’ve got a sugar craving, I could snack on a little fruit (unless you’re obese, better leave the fruit alone). Even if you ate 10 bananas, […]

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[…] in butter, vanilla and just enough honey to sweeten it up without masking the tart flavor. Fresh berries are mixed in and then the sauce is spooned on top of full-fat yogurt or layered with homemade […]

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[…] in butter, vanilla and just enough honey to sweeten it up without masking the tart flavor. Fresh berries are mixed in and then the sauce is spooned on top of full-fat yogurt or layered with homemade […]

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[…] you’re not going to have enough of it. If you’re only eating beef, shy away from berries, hate shellfish, and avoid all nuts all the time because of omega-6, you may be missing some […]

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[…] you’re not going to have enough of it. If you’re only eating beef, shy away from berries, hate shellfish, and avoid all nuts all the time because of omega-6, you may be missing some […]

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[…] and love my afternoon apple + almond butter snack. Mark Sisson has some great insight on the Healthiest Fruits, and Jason Seib has some interesting insights as well. I believe, when in doubt, listen to your […]

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[…] to lose weight. Tailor your fruit intake to your desired Primal carb intake. As luck would have it, higher ORAC level fruits also tend to be lower on the glycemic scale. Berries and cherries generally offer the most antioxidant bang with the least carb buck. Check out […]

Calculate Glycemic Load
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the information Mark! I love blueberries a lot. Will definitely buy more berries to eat after reading this post ;).

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[…] you get rid of that crap and naturally limit your carb intake to veggies, root tubers and a few fruits, you almost invariably decrease carbs to under 150 grams a day. And that emulates our ancestral […]

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3 years 10 months ago

[…] you get rid of that crap and naturally limit your carb intake to veggies, root tubers and a few fruits, you almost invariably decrease carbs to under 150 grams a day. And that emulates our ancestral […]

Anu Yagi
3 years 9 months ago
Here’s an interesting ORAC update (note the last sentence of the excerpt!), via http://www.ars.usda.gov/services/docs.htm?docid=15866: “Recently [2010] the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) removed the USDA ORAC Database for Selected Foods from the NDL website due to mounting evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health. There are a number of bioactive compounds which are theorized to have a role in preventing or ameliorating various chronic diseases such as cancer, coronary vascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. However, the associated metabolic pathways are not completely understood and non-antioxidant… Read more »
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[…] quite low in sugar. Combine that with their sweet and tangy flavoring, they’re one of the best fruit choices you can make and they’re practically addictive. Try and eat just one – I dare […]

Matt Hardwick
Matt Hardwick
2 years 9 months ago
Hey Mark, I need to debunk a myth here: Dates are a LOW GI food. The GI = 103 figure you quote for dates is from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/1/5/T1.expansion However, go to the reference notes on this page and you’ll see that the 103 figure comes from unpublished observations from the Human Nutrition Unit (Sydney University, Australia), 1995–2002. Now check out the following PUBLISHED studies on this point: • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12070575 where “dates can be classified as low glycemic index food items.” • http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/59 where “the results show low glycemic indices for the five types of dates… Read more »
Asad Hamdani
Asad Hamdani
2 years 6 months ago

I second that, and would add this list from Harvard University:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods.htm

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[…] and kid friendly, flavor. Or, you can get really experimental and blend up some beets and berries until you have a slightly sweet, bright-hued juice full of antioxidants, folate, vitamin C, and […]

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