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Nutritionists often recommend that you “eat the rainbow”—that is, to have foods in a variety of colors on your plate. All those pigments not only make your meal look attractive but also have powerful health benefits. The compounds that give plants their red, orange, blue, yellow, and green hues are phytochemicals that act as antioxidants, squelching cell-damaging free radicals. And there’s really no tastier way to pack your diet with color than to eat several servings of fruit each day.
But isn’t fruit too sugary? While fruit does have sugars, your body processes them differently from the sugars in, say, a candy bar because of the fiber and phytochemicals it contains.
“I’ve yet to see a study that says people eat too much fruit,” says Eric Rimm, ScD, professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School in Boston. In addition to antioxidants and fiber, “fruit is an excellent source of potassium, and other nutrients that make it good for overall health,” he says.
And while summer fruit may get all the glory, the fruits of fall can be just as healthy and delicious. Here, what five fruits that are now in season have to offer.
Why they’re so healthy: This quintessential fall fruit is also one of the season’s healthiest choices, even if the inside isn’t very colorful. Apples contain several varieties of flavonoids (plant-based antioxidants)—much of which is in the peel—including flavonols, such as quercetin, and flavan-3-ols. “There is a lot of evidence linking these flavonoids with reduced inflammation, which is related to lower risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, and dementia,” says Paul Jacques, DSc, nutritional epidemiologist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
In a recent study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jacques and other Tufts researchers looked at diets of 2,800 people 50 and older. They found that those who consumed the most flavonols had a 50 percent reduction in risk of dementia compared with those who ate the least over the 20-year follow-up period.
Eating tips: Of course, nothing beats munching on a fresh, crisp, raw apple. “But when you cook apples, you bring out a different flavor and texture,” says Celine Beitchman, director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She suggests slicing and baking them with a little butter and cinnamon, then using them to top yogurt, cereal, or ice cream. “I also pan-sear apple slices, then roast them together with chicken or pork for added sweetness,” she says.
Why they’re so healthy: In addition to 36 mg of vitamin C, each little clementine provides 131 mg of blood pressure-regulating potassium. “Clementines, like other citrus fruits, contain a lot of water, making them very hydrating,” says Nicole Hopsecger, RD, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.
Eating tips: Clementines are almost irresistible as is. “They’re easy to peel, sweet, and seedless,” Beitchman says. “Leave a bowl of them on the counter all winter and watch them disappear.” But they’re also delicious combined with roasted fennel as a side dish. Because they’re so sweet, they make a great addition to a fall salad of bitter greens, such as arugula and kale. Or dip slices in melted chocolate for a healthy dessert.
Why they’re so healthy: Cranberries, like blueberries and strawberries, are high in the types of anthocyanins and flavonols shown to reduce risk of dementia.
Eating tips: Raw cranberries are tart, but you can use that as a flavorful contrast to sweeter fruits. Make a raw cranberry relish to serve with poultry by pulsing some cranberries in a blender along with an orange and a drizzle of honey. You can also sauté them with sweet fruits—like apples and pears—to use as a yogurt or oatmeal topping. But be wary of store-bought cranberry sauces and dried cranberries because many contain high amounts of added sugars.
Why it’s so healthy: Grapefruit, like all citrus fruits, is a rich source of vitamin C. One-half grapefruit provides about 48 mg, more than half your daily need. “It won’t ward off all colds, but there’s evidence that vitamin C helps keep the immune system strong,” Rimm says.
Half a grapefruit also contains about 2.5 grams of fiber, much of it soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels. Choose the pink or red variety and you’ll get the bonus of heart-healthy antioxidants beta-carotene and lycopene. But if you are on any medication, double check with your doctor about eating grapefruit. Certain drugs—including some for cholesterol, high blood pressure, and anxiety—interact negatively with grapefruit.
Eating tips: Try using fresh grapefruit segments in a salad with avocado (add salmon or chicken if you like) or combine with roasted beets for a side dish. If you opt for the classic grapefruit half for breakfast, be sure to go easy on extra sugar. (A sprinkle is fine; a whole teaspoon may be overkill.) You can also peel the fruit, splay out the sections, and broil them for added sweetness.
Why they’re so healthy: The juicy seeds hidden inside this fruit pack powerful levels of anthocyanins and tannins—two types of antioxidants associated with heart health. “But be careful about just drinking pomegranate juice,” Hopsecger says. “You lose most of the fiber and some other benefits you’d get from eating whole seeds.” A cup of seeds contains about 7 grams of fiber.
Eating tips: Sprinkle these jewel-like seeds into green, grain, or fruit salads or toss them over roasted fall vegetables, such as brussels sprouts. And if you want the benefits of pomegranate without the work of culling all those seeds from the fruit, look for packaged fresh seeds in the produce section.