Peaches, a fruit with health benefits, on a blue background.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: Eat more fruits and vegetables. Often, though, the fruit part of that edict isn’t taken as seriously.

Maybe it’s because we perceive vegetables as being healthier. Or perhaps it feels like cheating to opt for the sweeter option.

But there’s no reason to feel guilty.

Fruits and vegetables both come packaged with innumerable health benefits we have only begun to define,” says Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., R.D., senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

“But you can actually get higher quantities of some nutrients per fruit than in the same amount of vegetables.”

The ideal daily goal is 1½ to 2 cups of fruit (along with 2 to 3½ cups of veggies). That’s easy to do this time of year, when a variety of sweet produce is in season. But if you’re still concerned that summer-ripe berries can’t possibly be as healthy as kale, let the experts dispel your fears.

Here, five reasons to eat more fruit, and how to get its health benefits. 

Fruit Won't Make You Fat

Because fruit contains natural sugars, many widely followed diet plans recommend avoiding it or at least severely limiting it. But the sugars in cantaloupe or peaches, say, don’t have the same negative effects on the body as high-fructose corn syrup of other types of sugars added to foods.

“Although the natural sugar in fruit is chemically similar to table sugar, our bodies process whole fruit differently because of the fiber, phytochemicals, and micronutrients,” says Hannah Meier, R.D., research associate at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. “Fiber slows the rate that the natural sugars are released into the bloodstream, preventing the spikes and crashes that might otherwise be experienced after eating a sugary treat.”

More on Healthy Eating

The fiber in fruit helps fill you up, and that may help with weight control, especially if you choose lower-calorie fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

And the phytochemicals in berries might have an additional impact on weight. In a 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers at Harvard tracked more than 120,000 men and women for up to 24 years. They reported on their weight every two years and their diet every four years.

The study found that those who ate the most flavonoids—healthy compounds found in fruits and vegetables—were better able to maintain their weight as they got older. Anthocyanins—the phytochemicals that give blueberries, strawberries, and other blue, red, and purple fruits their color—appeared to have the most powerful effect.

Even people with diabetes should eat fruit.

“We tell diabetics to be mindful of portion sizes of fruit and count them as part of their carbohydrate intake,” Hunnes says. “But overly limiting fruit is dangerous because you’re cutting out vitamins, minerals, fiber, and extra water you could be getting in your diet.”

Fruit Is Packed With Nutrients

When it comes to nutritional bang for your buck, fruit is hard to beat.

“All fruits are high in fiber and potassium, and most are also good sources of vitamins A and C, folate, and a wide variety of phytochemicals,” says Nicola M. McKeown, Ph.D., a nutritional epidemiologist at Tufts. ­

Phyto­chemicals such as anthocyanins and other flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants, may have a variety of benefits, including better heart and brain health and a reduced risk of cancer.

According to the Department of Agriculture, when fruit is consumed in the recommended amounts, it contributes 16 percent of our recommended fiber intake and 17 percent of our potassium. Typical American diets are low in these nutrients.

Fiber helps you maintain a healthy weight, can improve cholesterol levels, and keeps your digestive system running smoothly.

Potassium is a key player in lowering blood pressure ­because it relaxes blood vessel walls and also helps to offset the negative effects of a diet too high in sodium.

And although the most important thing is to focus on eating more fruit overall, the type you eat, and how you consume it, could make a difference.

“In general, you want to eat as many of your fruits as possible in their whole form, including the skin,” says Eric Rimm, Sc.D., professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

The protective skin, and the area just beneath it, is where the plant houses the antioxidants it relies on to protect itself from pests.

“By eating that, you’re getting the most antioxidants possible, which may be why some fruits—like berries—seem to come out consistently better than others in ­research on heart disease and other health benefits.”

Frozen fruit is as nutritious as fresh, provided it contains no added sugars. Same goes for canned fruit—look for those packed in their own juice, not sugar-laden syrup.

It's Good for Your Heart

Obesity and high blood pressure are the two main risk factors for heart disease,” Rimm says. “And fruit intake has been linked to lowering the risk of both. For example, trials have shown that you can get a 20 to 25 percent reduction in risk of heart disease by replacing two servings of starchy vegetables or refined carbo­hydrates with two servings of fruit a day.”

The potassium in fruit helps account for the strong association between increased fruit intake and a lower risk of high blood pressure.

But it’s not just one nutrient in fruit that makes a difference. Anthocyanins reduced the risk of hypertension by 8 to 12 percent in people who consumed the most in a 14-year study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

These compounds have been shown to ­improve vascular function—reducing inflam­ma­tion in the vessels and improving blood flow. And the impact of increasing your fruit ­intake on blood pressure can be quick. “In some of our research, we’ve seen reduc­tions within three months of dietary change,” Rimm says.

Berries Boost Brainpower

Those same anthocyanins may be why fruit (and berries in particular) has gained a reputation for keeping your memory sharp. Anthocyanins may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation—both of which can negatively affect brain function and memory.

A 2012 Harvard study found that those who ate one or more servings of blueberries or two or more servings of strawberries per week delayed cognitive aging by 2½ years compared with those who ate the fewest berries.

Fruit Also Lowers Cancer Risk

The fact that diets higher in fruit are linked to lower body weights could be partially responsible for why fruit may also reduce your risk of cancer.

Fruit’s plentiful array of phytochemicals and nutrients—such as carotenoids, vitamin C, and folate—might also affect cancer risk.

There is probable evidence that a higher intake of fruit may be protective against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lung, and stomach, according to the latest report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund.

Some evidence also suggests that more fruit may help reduce the risk of pancreatic, liver, and colorectal cancer.

5 Unusual Fruits to Try

According to the USDA, Americans’ favorite fruits are apples and bananas. And while these fruits have health benefits, it may be time to branch out.

The exotic options below are increasingly available in grocery stores and are a delicious way to increase your fruit intake.

Papaya: Packed with vitamin C and folate, this is a great addition to a tropical fruit salad.

Passion Fruit: You’ll need to cut through the tough rind to access the sweet-tart pulp and seeds inside. When you do, you’ll find a wealth of fiber, potassium, and vitamin A.

Plantain: Unlike their relative, the banana, plantains are normally eaten cooked. Sauté or bake them without added fat or sugar for a high-fiber treat.

Persimmon: The inside flesh of this fruit is a rich source of vitamins A and C.

Kumquat: You can eat the entire fruit, skin and all. That means getting even more of the nutritional benefits (kumquats are especially rich in vitamin C) with every serving. 

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the June 2018 issue of Consumer Reports On Health