We manage to eat our daily requirement of vegetables. But fruits? If you are like me, you would average just a single serving of fruits, that is, one serving a week! All that changed recently when I happened to meet a still supple and sharp-sighted 85-year-old woman, who beamed with health like a Kashmir apple.

Some people think vitamin pills can substitute fruits. “That simply won’t work. Fruits are loaded with over 400 phytonutrients, antioxidants and anticancer ingredients, apart from vitamins and minerals. Our bodies need all of these,” says Nirmala Jesudason, consultant dietician. We need to eat 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. A ‘serving’ roughly translates to one medium-sized apple or mango or, in the case of cut fruits — a small cup full. “We don’t enjoy the good health our ancestors did. A major reason for this is we don’t consume fruits,” says V. R. Seshadri, ayurvedic consultant.

But there is such a thing as when, what, and how fruits should be eaten. Fruits such as jackfruit are difficult to digest and need to be eaten on an empty stomach or before a meal. In fact, most fruits, with the exception of mango, banana and papaya, need to be eaten before meals or on an empty stomach, or along with the meal, not after it.

Fruits and your constitution

Not all people can eat all fruits at all times either. Ayurveda lays great emphasis on the physical constitution of the individual, which it classifies into pitham, vaatham, and kapham. An imbalance in pitham, vaatham and kapham makes the body susceptible to disorders. “People with kapha bodies should avoid watermelon and guava, which increase phlegm. And no bananas either, though they could eat a small karpooravaazhai or malaivaazhai once a week”, says Dr. Seshadri. Likewise, people with pitha bodies need to limit their intake of acidic fruits such as oranges, lemons, grapes and pineapple, which increase pitham; and people with vaatham bodies too should avoid guava, banana and watermelon.

Banana relieves constipation; watermelon cools off the body, has a diuretic effect, and relieves urinary tract irritations; mango blended with milk can prevent sunstroke... The list goes on. But there are other things to consider. People with renal problems should eat very little of potassium-rich fruits such as banana and orange. Those with joint pain should avoid bananas. It is also believed that papaya can trigger abortion.

Variety matters

Eat a variety of fruits. But moderation is required too. Ati sarvatra varjayeth, says our scriptures. Eat the whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juices; eat fruits with their skin whenever possible. Don’t eat overripe fruits. To counter the pesticides that fruits are generously showered with, “Soak them in salt water or potassium permanganate solution (half a teaspoon in a litre of water). Then rinse them with drinking water. If salt water or potassium permanganate solution is not available, soak the fruits in water for a while and then rinse them in drinking water,” recommends Nirmala Jesudason.

It is a myth that diabetics can’t eat fruits. “Diabetics can substitute a small part of their calorie allowance with fruits. For instance, a small banana or apple, or 300gm of watermelon or 70-80gm of mango is more or less equal to 15gm of carbohydrates,” Nirmala explains.

Nutritionists recommend that we become ‘fruitarians’ occasionally. Considering that fruits are expensive, and since we are advised to breakfast like a prince and dine like a pauper, probably the best bet is to swap dinner for a fruit meal. “A modest fruit bowl comprising an apple, a few pieces of sapota, custard apple and guava, and a sprinkling of dry fruits, can make a proper meal. But don’t mix sweet and sour fruits. You can try other combinations too, based on your body constitution,” suggests Dr. Seshadri.

“If eating healthy is costly, being unhealthy is costlier,” says dietician Geetha Vasudevan. With apples selling at Rs. 23 a piece, fruits are expensive. But now that toor dal threatens to become costlier than cashew nuts, it might not be a bad idea to begin substituting an occasional meal with fruits.

FRUIT FACTS

l Get your daily fruit requirement.

l Eat a variety of fruits.

l Choose fruits according to your constitution.

l Eat fruits before or along with a meal, not after it.

l Eat whole fruits rather than juices, and along with the skin whenever possible.

l Go ‘fruitarian’ once in a while.