You already know that it’s important for your health to exercise regularly and eat your fair share of vegetables and fruit.
But if you really want to get the most out of your fruit, experts say there’s actually an ideal time in its lifespan when it’s best to eat it.
“Fruits are at their peak nutrition when they come off the tree or vine,” says nutrition expert Karen Ansel, R.D. But when fruit is picked, the nutrition starts to deteriorate. If it travels in a truck and sits on a store shelf for days, it’s slowly going downhill form there.
Luckily, a lot of the vitamins and minerals that you get from fruit don’t change significantly over time, says Gina Keatley, a certified dietitian-nutritionist practicing in New York City. She lists elements like potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper among those, as well as the antioxidant capacity of the fruit.
The biggest potential issue for fruit over time, however, is the sugar content. While Ansel stresses that you should probably worry more about the sugar you’re getting from other sources as opposed to your fruit, the ripening process does impact fruits’ sugar content and even some other nutrients.
Here’s the optimal time to eat your fruit:
Best time: Before they get spots
Bananas are high in starch when you pick them, and as they ripen, that starch turns to sugar, says Ansel. Over time, the banana will have the same amount of carbs and calories but will contain more sugar.
One benefit of eating a banana before it reaches the spotting phase: It contains resistant starch, which slows down digestion, can keep you feeling fuller longer, and can help you absorb fewer calories. “The less ripe it is, the more resistant starch it has,” says Ansel. But, she notes, you shouldn’t eat totally green bananas since…gross.
Best time: Before they’re mushy
Berries are higher in starch off the vine because of their lower sugar content at the time, says registered dietitian nutritionist Sonya Angelone, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If you want to get fewer calories from them, you would eat them when they’re green,” she says, “but it wouldn’t taste as good.”
The increase in sugar levels in berries are more pronounced as they get smaller, says Keatley, so blueberries may increase in sugar 150 to 200 percent from when they’re picked to when they rot.
Best time: When they’re crisp and tart
Just like with berries, apples increase in sugar and slightly decrease in nutrients as they ripen, says Keatley. “The best time to eat them would be just as they start to ripen, but the change is so slight it is more important that you eat it when it tastes best,” she says.
How can you tell with apples? Ones that are less ripe will taste tart, says Angelone, adding that apple varieties that are created to be tart also contain less sugar.
Experts stress that it’s best to eat fruit when it tastes good to you (that way you’re getting the nutrients out of it), but if you can eat it when it’s less ripe as opposed to close to rotting, you’ll get a lower sugar content and slightly more nutrients.
Worth noting: Ansel says frozen food is “surprisingly high” in nutrients because they’re locked in early on, soon after the fruit is picked. “Sometimes, you might actually be better off with something that’s frozen rather than fresh,” she says.