Fancy superfruits like guava, mangosteen, acai, and goji tout sky-high levels of antioxidants and vitamins. And with their standout nutrient profiles, as the University of California in Davis notes, it’s no wonder food marketers often call them “super.” But the truth is, a wealth of research has shown that the ordinary apples, grapes, and other fruits that make our shopping lists week after week boast some pretty impressive health benefits of their own.
Eating even slightly more fruits (as well as vegetables) may lower your odds of developing type 2 diabetes, a study published in July 2020 in The BMJ suggested. And note: Eating fancy superfruits wasn’t a requirement to reap these diabetes prevention perks.“The truth is, all fruits promote health and provide a variety of essential nutrients, such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, making them worth building into our daily diets, no matter how basic and accessible they might be,” says Malina Malkani, RDN, creator of Solve Picky Eating, and author of Simple & Safe Baby-Led Weaning, who is based in Rye, New York.
Plus, the accessibility of ordinary fruits may mean a greater likelihood you’ll add them to your plate. “One of the great things about fruit that’s easy to find is that consumers are more familiar with what they are and how they taste, and they are more comfortable with them in the kitchen, allowing them to put those fruits to use in a variety of ways,” says Jessica Levinson, RDN, a culinary nutrition expert in New Rochelle, New York.
And yes, eating fruits whole for snacking is a good idea, but so, too, is incorporating them into meals in less expected ways. “As a dietitian and mom of three, I’ve seen how truly impactful it can be to help kids learn to enjoy all sorts of fruits — the widely available ones, too — by getting creative in the kitchen and experimenting with different preparations, such as baked, sautéed, fresh, roasted, poached, in muffins, or as toast toppings,” adds Malkani.
While there’s nothing wrong with splurging on imported power fruits, some of the best finds in the produce department are the ones you’ve probably been eating all along. Read on to see just how good those shopping-cart staples are for your health. Bear in mind, though, that most of the following research is limited. Primarily that’s because conducting nutrition research in humans poses a number of challenges, including relying on self-reported data, per an article published in March 2020 in Science. Much research, in turn, is conducted on animals — and what works in animals can’t necessarily be used to inform human health behaviors, a researcher noted in an October 2015 article in Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics.
1/ Grapefruit May Help Prevent Diabetes and Other Chronic Diseases
Adding grapefruit to your diet may decrease your risk of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, according to past research. When overweight adults ate one half-grapefruit, drank grapefruit juice, took a grapefruit pill, or took a placebo, once a day before a meal for 12 weeks, those who consumed grapefruit in any form had lower insulin levels (higher levels are a sign of type 2 diabetes). What’s more, the fresh grapefruit eaters lost an average of 3.5 pounds more over the course of the study than the placebo group. (But if you take any medications, talk to your doctor first, as grapefruit can interact with many different drugs, according to the FDA.)
One reason for grapefruit’s potential health perks? It contains a compound called naringenin that’s also found in other citrus fruits, and according to a review published in March 2019 in the journal Pharmaceuticals, it may provide anti-inflammatory benefits, and help protect against developing cardiovascular disease. This compound may also help prevent kidney cysts, according to preliminary past in vitro and animal research.
Another plus: A prior study in the journal Stroke found that eating citrus foods like grapefruit may lower a person’s risk for having an ischemic stroke, which happens when a vessel supplying blood to the brain gets a blockage, according to the American Stroke Association.
To put your grapefruit to use, you can have one as your a.m. meal, but also consider using grapefruit as a compliment to a seafood dish, or even add some wedges to your morning smoothie. One small grapefruit contains over 2 grams (g) of fiber, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is just over 7 percent of your daily value (DV). And of course, grapefruit shines when it comes to its vitamin C content — one small grapefruit has about 69 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, according to the USDA, which is around 77 percent of your DV, making it an excellent source.
2/ Blueberries Can Help Support Healthy Weight Loss
Blueberries can help keep you healthy in more ways than one. According to a previous study, a compound called pterostilbene worked with vitamin D in cells to boost the immune system and fight off infections. However, this research is preliminary and it is unclear if the same effect would be seen in humans.
This fruit may also keep your mind sharp — past research has linked blueberries to improving memory and learning, thanks in part to the anti-inflammatory effects of anthocyanin — the antioxidants that give the fruit its bright purple hue. Another study published in February 2017 in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience showed that when older adults with early stages of the cognitive decline took blueberry supplements, they experienced neurocognitive benefits.
Last but not least, research published in May 2019 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating 1 cup of blueberries each day lowered the odds of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 15 percent. Now that’s a reason to stock up!
“In addition to the health benefits of blueberries, they shouldn’t be overlooked because they taste great and are very versatile in the kitchen,” says Levinson. “Whether you throw some on top of cereal or yogurt for breakfast, add them to a salad for lunch, turn them into sauces and dressings, use them to make mocktails and cocktails, or use them to make dessert, there are endless ways to enjoy blueberries!”
Per ½ cup, you get 42 calories and 1.75 g of fiber (6 percent of the DV), according to the USDA.
3/ Apples Can Play a Role in Zapping High Cholesterol
“That old saying of ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ might just have been on to something,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RD, founder of Once Upon a Pumpkin, who is based in Chicago.
When overweight, postmenopausal women ate around a cup of dried apples each day for a year, they experienced an almost 6 percent drop in “bad” LDL cholesterol, according to a study published in October 2018 in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology journal. What’s more, the women’s “good” HDL cholesterol increased by about 10 percent, and they also lost an average of 2.4 percent of their body fat. Another study, published in December 2019 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating two whole apples each day lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol levels in study participants with high cholesterol.
The heart-healthy benefit may stem from the apples’ pectin (a type of fiber) and polyphenols (a group of antioxidants), according to Harvard University.
Other past research has found that apples may also protect against chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), possibly due to their high level of flavonoid antioxidants.
“Apples are a good source of many nutrients — notably fiber, which supports heart health and may help with weight loss,” says Malkani. According to the USDA, a medium apple has a whopping 4.4 g of fiber, which is almost 16 percent of your DV, making it a good source. You also score a notable amount of vitamin C — 8.4 mg, according to the USDA, which is 9 percent of your DV.
Obviously, apples make for a great snack, but you can also bake with apples, or even make your own DIY applesauce.
4/ Tangerines Can Help Support Metabolic Health
A flavonoid in this citrus fruit may help protect the body against the group of risk factors known as metabolic syndrome, which includes high fasting blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, and high blood pressure, according to previous animal research. When researchers fed mice a typical “western” diet high in saturated fat, sodium, added sugar, and refined carbohydrates that were supplemented with the tangerine antioxidant nobiletin, the mice experienced no increase in cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, or blood sugar, but mice who didn’t get the nobiletin did see a rise.
Other past animal research has found that the compound may prevent atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries that can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Interestingly, tangerine peels may play a role in helping to prevent certain types of cancer. A compound in the peel called salvestrol Q40 halts the activity of an enzyme that incites the growth of cancer cells, past research has found. Try some tangerine zest in your tea or sprinkle on a salad for a citrusy twist.
One medium-sized tangerine has 1.6 g of fiber, according to the USDA, providing you with nearly 6 percent of your DV, plus over 23 mg of vitamin C, which is 26 percent of your DV, making it an excellent source.
5/ Strawberries Should Be Part of an Anti-Cancer Diet
Slicing strawberries into your morning cereal or yogurt may cut your risk of esophageal cancer, according to a small previous study. When 36 people with precancerous esophageal lesions ate 2 ounces of freeze-dried strawberries daily for six months, 80 percent saw a decrease in the severity of the lesions. The researchers aren’t sure which of the vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients in the berries is responsible, but they plan to investigate the possibility that strawberries may be valuable as an add-on or alternative treatment to cancer-treating drugs. Note that the current study is small and funded by industry — the California Strawberry Commission — so the results may be skewed.
Strawberries — as well as other berries — might also help protect you against skin cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center. Yet at this stage, much of the research has been primarily conducted on animals — for example, a study published in August 2016 in Scientific Reports found that strawberry extract can stop the spread of breast cancer cells in mice.
Strawberries also take care of your ticker. A past study found that regular strawberry consumption can counteract the inflammatory and blood clotting effects of a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal, potentially decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other research published in January 2013 in the journal Circulation found that women who ate at least three servings of strawberries and blueberries per week had lower odds of developing heart attacks.
“They make for a great snack and you can use them in a variety of different ways,” says Michalczyk. “Frozen is also a great way to go for things like smoothies,” she adds.
One cup of halved strawberries contains over 3 g of fiber, according to USDA, which is about 11 percent of your DV, making them a good source. The juicy red berries also come packed with vitamin C: One cup of halved strawberries contains over 89 mg of vitamin C, which is 99 percent of your DV.
6/ Dried Plums Are Good Food for Your Bones
“People may think prunes are food for the elderly or only worth eating for digestive health, but they are wrong,” says Levinson. “There are lots of great reasons to eat prunes or dried plums.”
For one, they’re bone-friendly. When postmenopausal women ate about five to six dried plums a day for six months, they maintained higher bone mineral density compared to a control group, according to a study published in July 2016 in Osteoporosis International. And in a past study, adult and elderly mice that were fed a diet containing dried plums not only experienced a drop in loss of bone density, they actually gained bone mass. Researchers say dried plums may have an effect on hormones that prevent bone breakdown due to a dip in estrogen levels.
“Prunes provide a natural sweetness, and add moisture and richness to desserts and baked goods, allowing you to reduce the amount of butter, sugar, and oil you would otherwise use,” says Levinson. “They also pair well with a variety of other flavors and can be used for both sweet and savory dishes.”
A ½-cup serving of dried, pitted prunes has over 6 g of fiber, according to the USDA, which is over 21 percent of your DV, making them an excellent source, according to Harvard, fiber-filled foods may help lower cholesterol.
Meanwhile, prunes’ potassium (635 mg per ½ cup of pitted prunes) provides almost 14 percent of the DV, making them a good source. The American Heart Association notes that getting enough potassium in your diet can help you manage high blood pressure. Potassium also helps with kidney and muscle function, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
7/ Cranberries Can Help Preserve Your Healthy Smile
Think out of the can when it comes to these tart fruits.
Antioxidants called proanthocyanidins in cranberries can help halt the activity of bacteria that cause dental cavities, supporting regular dental hygiene habits, according to a past review. To reap this potential perk, opt for the whole fruit, not the jellied variety, which contains a whopping 23 g of sugar per ¼ cup, according to the USDA. According to the American Dental Association, too much sticky, sugary food can actually cause cavities — and that’s nothing to grin about.
To enjoy fresh, whole cranberries, try simmering up your own subtly sweet relish instead or toss a handful in your sparkling water, then eat them afterward.
Fresh cranberries come with almost 4 g of fiber per cup when chopped, according to the USDA, for 14 percent of your DV, making them a good source. The same serving has only 5 g of sugar. Plus, you score over 15 mg of vitamin C in each cup, which is 17 percent of your DV, making it another good source.
8/ Grapes Are Inflammation Squelchers, Helping Ward Off Disease
Eating polyphenol-rich grapes can reduce inflammation that contributes to a variety of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure suggests past animal research. Harvard notes too that long-term, chronic inflammation is associated with conditions including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.
The fruits may fight inflammation in several ways, including acting as an antioxidant, reducing cell oxidative stress, and blocking pro-inflammatory compounds called cytokines, notes a review published in January 2020 in the journal Antioxidants.
According to the Mayo Clinic, antioxidants are compounds found in plants including grapes that help your body fight free radicals, which are molecules your body accumulates when exposed to harmful substances such as tobacco smoke and radiation. If you have too many of these free radicals, it can cause oxidative stress, per the Mayo Clinic, which is connected to various diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Even for helping protect against everyday ailments like the common cold, red grapes may help. Similar to blueberries, red grapes contain the compound resveratrol, according to past research. This compound is an immune system supporter, but it has also been linked in large doses to heart health and the prevention of certain types of cancers. Nevertheless, Memorial Sloan Kettering notes that most of the research has been animal studies and human studies have not established a real benefit.
“Grapes can be enjoyed — as they most often are — as a snack, but they can also be put to great use in the kitchen,” says Levinson. “They can be used to make sauces, dressings, and marinades, they are delicious roasted and added to grain salads or baked with meat, chicken, or fish, or enjoyed in salads, side dishes, and desserts,” she says.
Each cup of seedless grapes scores you almost 1.5 g of fiber, according to the USDA, which is around 5 percent of your DV. You also get 288 mg of potassium, notes the USDA, covering more than 6 percent of your DV. Not too shabby!
9/ Bananas May Help Curb Your Appetite, Aiding Weight Loss
“Bananas offer antioxidants, fiber, and many essential nutrients, such as vitamin B6, but what makes them especially interesting is that their nutrient content changes depending on their level of ripeness,” says Malkani. “Underripe bananas contain a lot of resistant starch, which helps reduce appetite and may help stabilize blood sugar levels after meals by slowing the rate of stomach emptying,” Malkani adds, and Johns Hopkins concurs.
One medium banana has over 3 g of fiber, according to the USDA, which is about 11 percent of your DV, making it a good source. Also, bananas are renowned for their potassium — a medium banana has 422 mg of potassium, the USDA notes, which is about 9 percent of your DV. You’ll also get over 10 mg of vitamin C, which is more than 11 percent of your DV, making bananas a good source. You’ll score 0.4 mg of vitamin B6, too, helping support your immune system and metabolism, according to the NIH.
“In my opinion, bananas should be a grocery staple because they are versatile, nutritious, and make for a great snack or addition to many meals — hello everyone’s favorite banana bread!” says Michalczyk.
10/ Pears Support a Healthy Digestive System
You’ll see pears stocked in the produce aisle at your grocery store, but before you pass them by, it’s time to pick a few up. It might be an especially good idea if your digestion is out of whack.
That’s because pears come full of fiber. For example, one medium pear is packed with over 5.5 g of fiber, according to the USDA, which is 20 percent of your DV, making it an excellent source. And why that matters: Dietary fiber (the kind you consume through food) impacts your gut’s ecosystem, according to a review published in June 2018 in the journal Cell Host Microbe.
Also, as the Mayo Clinic notes, fiber helps your digestive system function properly, and pears are one of the top fruit sources of this nutrient. Add pears to your next salad, yogurt bowl, or even simply bake a pear with cinnamon on top. Delicious!
Just know that all fruit (and vegetables) are a good choice when it comes to your gut — and your health. “Americans don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables as it is, so any and all consumption of fruit — no matter what kind it is — is beneficial,” says Levinson.