We all know that healthy eating means we should probably eat more fruits and vegetables. We hear that all the time right? But, it really isn’t that simple. Focusing just on fruits in our pursuit of eating healthy, for example, there’s many different kinds and they aren’t all the same obviously. Plus, you have to factor the time issue. Ever bitten into an unripe peach? Hard as a rock almost. What about an over-ripe peach? Mushy like apple sauce and kinda nasty (well, I think at least).
When it comes to what kind, an easy simple answer is just eat a variety. The more colors of fruit in your diet, the better. But, timing, well that’s a whole different story. While almost all nutritionists agree that the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fat, calories, and so vary depending on the ripeness of the fruit, not all fruits “age” in the same manner.
The more ripe a fruit, generally the more starch that has been converted to sugar. This typically results in it being softer and sweeter (remember that peach from above and how it can change). This typically results in a loss of acidity and a change in color as well. A banana is a prime example of this. Bananas will go from an almost unopenable and unpalatable green to a tender, delicious yellow, and finally a mushy, soft brown. This transformation is an evolutionary adaptation to make the fruit more appealing, from texture, to taste, to visual appearance. That fruit just wants you to eat and will put on all the pretty clothes it can find!
Conveniently, the changes aren’t just on the outside; there’s also an internal shift nutritionally. Ripening needs energy, which is the plant form of stress, and plants will protect themselves by developing antioxidants for defense. That’s great for you and me as well.
So, with all that confusing data in mind and to help you continue your healthy eating here’s a summary of the “when” to eat certain fruits during their individual ripening cycle:
Healthy Eating: Apples and Pears
When they begin to change away from green, they generally have greater amounts of antioxidants. Ripe apples and pears have a sweet smell and smooth skin but apples should be firm while pears slightly soft. In my experience, apples will stay ripe for up to a week, if stored in a cool, shaded spot in my kitchen. Pears, on the other hand, hang out with a different crowd and often go bad after just a few days. One other note, always eat the peels as the skins contain the most antioxidants!
Healthy Eating: Bananas
Ah, one of my favorites but also one that is a bit backwards, especially for those looking to monitor sugar intake. The less ripe a banana, the lower the amount of sugar is contains. The greener a banana, the more “resistance starch” is contains. Your body must work harder to digest those compounds, typically leaving you with a fuller, more satiated feeling for a longer period of time.
Healthy Eating: Berries and Grapes
These are some of my personal favorites. Super yummy and, in appropriate quantities, super healthy! Ripe berries and grapes have higher levels of anthocyanins (uh, what?), an anti-inflammatory flavonoid that may protect your brain. Actually, writing that sentence hurt my brain so let’s just go with eating them is fun cuz they taste yummy! Ask my kids and they’ll agree too! Pick your berries and grapes by their smell, color, plumpness, and texture. If they look good to you, they are likely good to eat as well. Storing them in a fridge will help them stay fresh for much longer with berries being about five days and grapes often up to a week or more.
Two others things: (1) Keep the stems on until you are ready to eat. Removing the stem basically causes trauma and speeds the ripening process. (2) Go organic. The thin skin of berries and grapes makes them exceedingly susceptible to absorbing all the pesticides and herbicides (and who knows what else) sprayed all over non-organic produce.
Healthy Eating: Pineapple
Such a pain in the bottom to cut, but so yummy! Riper pineapples typically have more vitamins and a higher overall antioxidant count compared to under-ripe ones. Look for a firm fruit and a strong, sweet odor. However, know that picking a perfectly ripe pineapple is pretty difficult. Generally though, the more yellow the rind, the more ripe. Also, avoid cutting them until you are ready to eat. Just like removing the stems from berries and grapes, an uncut pineapple will last much longer, about up to a week.
Healthy Eating: Tomatoes
Man, this is one fruit I wish I loved, but sadly, I don’t. Regardless, they contain high levels of lycopene, an antioxidant that is believed to promote heart health and lower your risk for certain types of cancer. Look for ones that bright, whether that’s red, orange, yellow, or green and give just a bit when pressed. On your counter, they’ll stay at peak ripeness for up to three days.
I hope all that is helpful and gives you some good guidance! If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask below, in the comments section. I greatly appreciate all discussion and feedback.
Until next time, happy eating!