Whole foods diets, Berries, and Watermelon

Q: Should I eat a “whole foods diet”?
Q: I know that berries are very nutritious, but they are so expensive compared to other fruit. What do you suggest?
Q: How nutritious is watermelon compared to other fruits?

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Should I eat a “whole foods diet”?

A: Nutrition recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research and many other health authorities emphasize choosing whole, unprocessed vegetables, fruits and grains instead of processed products that have reduced fiber and nutrients or increased amounts of fat, sugar and sodium. Whole foods, which are higher in nutrients, phytochemicals and fiber, lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and other age-related health problems. Although processed foods don’t have to be avoided completely, they should play a minimal role in your meals and snacks. Some definitions of a “whole foods diet” say that the vegetables and fruits you eat should be fresh (not frozen or canned), locally grown and in season. But following this kind of diet would drastically narrow your range of vegetable and fruit choices. If you live in the northern half of the U.S., you would deprive yourself of many sources of valuable nutrients and phytochemicals for many months of the year. This kind of diet has no scientific support. Another definition of “whole foods” without any research backing says you should eat full-fat foods like whole milk and regular cuts of meat. Choosing foods with less saturated fat, however, like skim milk and lean cuts of meat, is a basic part of healthful eating.

Q: I know that berries are very nutritious, but they are so expensive compared to other fruit. What do you suggest?

A: Berries are indeed loaded with vitamins and natural plant compounds that protect our cells from cancer-causing agents in a variety of ways. One way to enjoy them more often is to serve them in fruit salads mixed with other less expensive fruits to lessen the cost per serving. Even small portions add flavor and nutrition when served as a topping for cereal or yogurt, or as a colorful addition to green salads. When fresh berries are no longer in season, buy frozen berries. They are somewhat lower in vitamin C than fresh ones, but the antioxidant power of the berries’ phytochemicals appears unaffected. When considering the cost of different forms of produce, look at where you spend your grocery money overall. Consider eating out just a little less often or cutting back on purchases of one or more high-cost foods that don’t supply health advantages such as sugar-laden soft drinks, high-fat meats and snack foods. These simple steps can often free up a surprising amount of money for foods like berries and other fruits and vegetables that protect our health and taste great.

Q: How nutritious is watermelon compared to other fruits?

A: Each cup of watermelon (about half a large slice) offers about 13 milligrams of vitamin C (14 to 17 percent of currently recommended daily intake). This is not as high as cantaloupe or honeydew melon, or other high-C fruits such as kiwi, strawberries and oranges, but as one of seven to ten servings of fruits and vegetables daily, it makes an important contribution. Watermelon is also an outstanding source of lycopene, an antioxidant phytochemical linked with lower risk of prostate and other cancers. Lycopene is the carotenoid that gives tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and red and pink grapefruit their characteristic color. Finally, watermelon also offers a weight-control bonus. A one-cup serving can satisfy a sweet tooth with just 49 calories, making it one of the fruits least concentrated in sugar and calories.

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