Fruit Freak: Will Eating a Ton of Fruit Help Keep You Healthy, Trim, and Alive Longer?
Some people get their jollies at bars or racetracks and various joints of ill repute. For excitement, I go to my favorite fruit place, Banana Joe's, on Rte 12 in Boylston, Mass.
I have never admitted being a fruit freak, until now. The fruit part I'm okay with. After all, don't all the experts say that eating lots of fruits and vegetables are good for you? And they're backed up by reams of data from countless studies.
The freak part I'm a little uneasy with. I think there is a possibility that I love fruit a little too much and in ways that might strike some people as, well, strange.
I start every day of my life with a big, juicy orange that I cut up as is, skin and all, into little bite-sized chunks. As I read the New York Times, I put one chunk after another to my mouth, separating the sweet flesh from the skin, chewing, savoring. In between orange helpings, I sip piping hot coffee and nibble at a raisin bagle.
The Times, the coffee, the bagle, and the orange are all necessary to get my day off to a good start. Breakfast without any one would simply not do. When I wake up away from home in a strange place, I have been known to walk ten miles to get a New York Times.
If I didn't aways bring an orange with me on trips, I would do the same to get an orange. I can substitute the bagel with raisin toast or an English muffin, but in my mind there is no substitute for a juicy orange in the morning.
It's a love affair with a fruit, no question about it. But wait. It gets sicker. I feel just as passionate about many other fruits: blueberries, cantalopes, green and red grapes, mangoes, strawberries, watermelon, bananas, apples.
Throughout my typical day, I am more or less constantly eating fruit. Today, for example, I played doubles tennis in wicked heat (see previous post about exercising in the heat) and came home about noon starving. My meal was 90% fruit. I had a half a mango and it was so perfectly ripe -- when nutrients in a fruit pack its biggest punch -- and so juicy sweet I nearly went delerious with pleasure.
I had a couple of slices of chilled watermelon. The presentation wasn't as pretty as that in the photo, which was prepared by my chef son-in-law Ed. He feeds my fruit addiction.
Because I was thirsty from playing tennis in the heat, despite drinking water nonstop, the watermelon was especially satisfying and disappeared in ravenous gulps. Watermelon is a great thirst-quencher and is packed with lycopene, an antioxidant that makes it red -- and also tomatoes -- and a proven disease fighter.
Strictly speaking, I should have eaten the watermelon unchilled and at room temperature for maximum nutritional value. But, hey, I'm no purist; I'm a fanatic, and I love watermelon straight out of the fridge.
I sliced up a couple of big strawberries, both at the height of ripeness and therefore taste, and each bite was perfection. I had a handful of red grapes bought just yesterday at Banana Joe's, for 99 cents a pound. They were cool, crispy fresh, heaven to the taste.
I also had a handful of cherries, given to me the day before by my sister, Ruby. She had purchased the cherries at her favorite fruit place on Grafton Street , for 69 cents a half pound. Ruby is also an enabler of my fruit addiction. As a fruit addict herself, she is the perfect supplier.
Also included in the lunch were generous slices of chicken. I enjoyed the chicken because I was so hungry but mostly I ate it out of obligation. I needed to get some protein into me. One cannot live on fruit alone. Or can one? I'm practically doing it now, along with vegetables that I also enjoy.
For example, I'm nuts about tomatoes, asparagus, squash, corn, peas. But I don't love them the way I love my fruit, passionately, no holding back, forever faithful. I don't dream about my favorite veggies the way I dream about fruit, mangoes, for example.
I first starting eating mangoes over forty years ago when I was teaching in East Africa. With the mango and me, it was love at first sight. No doubt, I was attracted by the fact that she was a native, wild, untamed, mysterious, thoroughly exotic, willing. Here I was in Africa consorting with this voluptuous native too sweet and innocent for words, mine for the taking!
My mango love affair goes on today. The photo shows the kind of fruit platter I dive into all the time, with my mango the star. There is something about a first love that always stays with you. At lunch today, the excitement of my long-ago encounter with my first sweet mango was still there. I know that we will always be together.
As I write this, blueberries are at their peak. Because of all the rain, blueberries in these parts are unusually large and juicy. Unable to contain all the moisture, many blueberries are splitting open, local farmers report. And, because of all the muggy weather, they are ripening sooner and all at once.
I think that tomorrow, Barbara and I will go picking blueberries. Oh God, my mouth is watering! While the mango came into my life when I was already an adult, I have been having a passionate love affair with blueberries all my life.
As a kid who grew up in foster homes, I never got fruit to eat. Fruit was too expensive to waste on a state kid. But you know what? In those days, the woods were full of blueberries. Not much longer after I had learned to walk, I was out in the woods with my pail picking blueberries.
Before one blueberry went into the pail, I filled my stomach. I picked until I got a handful and then shoved them into my mouth and then picked another handful and did the same. The pail stayed empty for a long time.
Fast-forward to the present. The photo shows that I have now learned that when blueberry-picking, not all berries should go in my mouth -- though plenty still do. Good thing they weigh just the berries and not me! By the way, despite the photo, I knew I was picking blueberries and not strawberries.
Unlike the sensuality I would later feel with the mango, my early encounters with the blueberry amounted to nothing more than a primitive orgy of eating. I shoved handfuls of high-bush blueberries into my mouth where they tumbled into a bottomless black pit. It was all appetite, lust at first sight.
I was a boy, too hungry to discern taste, too immature for the love that would come only later with my cherished African mango. Only after I filled my stomach many times with blueberries, only after I realized that the blueberries were not going anywhere, only then did I begin to eat a single blueberry and take my time doing it.
Lust ripened into love. And, as the photo shows, the love affair goes on today.
Later, as an adult, I learned that the blueberry is a powerhouse of antioxidant phytonutrients and lust turned to love now turned to respect. Nutrients in this tiny little wonder of nature helps prevent free radical damage to cells and is associated with warding off a host of afflictions from glaucoma, to varicose veins, to hemorrhoids, to some heart disease and cancers.
Naturally, at this moment I have a couple of pints of blueberries in the refrigerator from Banana Joe's. Later on tonight, I'll have a bowl of raisin bran and 1% milk heaped, and I mean heaped, with blueberries and banana slices. That'll happen only a couple of hours after an evening a meal of baked chicken, fresh local corn, and sliced mango.
You know, I'm getting hungry and it's only five 0'clock. We usually don't eat until about six. All this talking about fruit and eating must have done it. I could go on writing about fruit but I understand that not everybody is a fruit freak like me and that I need to stop.
I haven't even talked about my deep feelings for the cantalope and how when I slice the fruit in two, and see her lying there exposed, inviting, luscious, vulnerable and all mine, I can hardly control myself. Forget that one cup contains over 100% daily value for vitamins C and A and that the fruit is associated with decreased risk of cataracts; I want to ravish.
Or grapes, also in the refrigerator, red ones, waiting for me to do with them as I will. During the evening, I'll eat them like candy, but slowly, one at a time. It is for good reason that mounds of grapes were the centerpiece of Roman feasts. They bespoke excess and wanton luxury and still do.
Or the cherries... or the watermelon ... or the kiwi fruit... or the rasberries. Oh, there are so many sumptious beauties I could go on about, each a natural work of art, each of which I carry on an intense one-on-one relationship with. The idea of their being mere food I do not understand.
It comes down to two real questions: 1) Is all this fruit healthy for me and will it help me reach age 120? and 2) Do I need help (of a psychological nature)?
I think the answer to the first question is: probably healthy but not enough in itself to take me to age 120. Too much of one kind of food is a nutritional no-no. The consensus today among nutritional experts is that a wide variety of different foods is best for humans because that is the best way to get all essential nutrients.
Still, there is a growing body of evidence that fruits and vegetables offer more health benefits than previously thought. Together, they may help prevent heart and eye disease, as well as stomach, colon, and other cancers. The Institute of Medicine urges adults to increase their intake of potassium, which is plentiful in many fruits and vegetables.
U.S. Health officials are ditching their old advice urging Americans to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day in favor of a new "more" campaign. Beginning next March, we will be urged to eat more fruits and vegetables depending on age and amount of daily exercise.
The individualized advice adds up to more fruit and vegetable intake than the old five servings a day. You can calculate your individual needs at mypyramid.gov.
As for the second question about my having mental problems and needing help: obviously. But do I really want help? Do I really want to stay away from Banana Joe's? The answer is no.
So long and keep moving.
NOTE: My novel, State Kid: Hero of Literacy is now available on Amazon and for the Nook.