Fruits and vegetables are important parts of a well-balanced diet. But both “fruits” and “vegetables” are rather broad terms. There’s a ton of produce out there, and it varies dramatically in terms of nutrition. Quite simply, not all fruits and veggies are created equal. Although it’s hard to go wrong when choosing produce, no one fruit or vegetable meets all of your nutritional needs.
Eating your favorite fruit or vegetable exclusively on a regular basis might not be the best idea. For example, if you rely on a couple of apples per day to fill your fruit requirement, you’re missing out on lots of good things other fruit can provide. Therefore, we’ve assembled a list of “stand-by” fruits and vegetables, analyzed their nutritional strengths and weaknesses, and found a different piece of produce you can add to your diet as a “change-up” to help you experience all of the wonderful benefits that fruits and vegetables have to offer.
Note: if a nutrient is not listed among the nutritional facts of a piece of produce, it is not present in a significant amount (3% of your daily value or less). For example, almost no produce contains a significant amount of fat, so fat content is listed only when it’s present in a significant amount.
1. Stand-By: Bananas
Medium Banana: 105 Calories, 12% DV Potassium, 9% DV Carbs, 12% DV Fiber, 14g Sugar, 20% DV Vitamin B-6, 17% DV Vitamin C, 8% DV Iron
Americans go bananas for bananas. It is currently the nation’s favorite fresh fruit, and the average citizen consumes over 10 pounds of bananas annually. There’s even an entire fad diet that recommends eating 30 bananas a day! (Note: Don’t try it.) Bananas do have many health benefits. A medium banana is fairly low in calories, very low in fat and a solid source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B-6 and vitamin C. But it also contains 14 grams of sugar (almost as much as four Milano cookies) and is low in some important vitamins and minerals.
One Cup Blackberries: 62 Calories, 6% DV Potassium, 4% DV Carbs, 32% DV Fiber, 7g Sugar, 6% Vitamin A, 7% Magnesium, 50% Vitamin C
Packed with antioxidants, blackberries are truly a superfood. (Learn why antioxidants are important for athletes.) One cup of blackberries contains significantly fewer calories than a banana while offering 5 percent more vitamin A and three times as much fiber. Fruits and veggies are the main sources of vitamin C in our diets, and bananas are actually quite lacking in it compared to many other fruits. Blackberries deliver a whopping 50 percent of your daily Vitamin C! But the biggest advantage of blackberries over bananas? They contain far less sugar. With only 7 grams per serving, blackberries ensure that you’re not overloading on sugar. They also have half the carbs of bananas, making them appropriate for anytime eating, while bananas are best consumed pre- or post-workout.
2. Stand-By: Grapes
One Cup Grapes: 62 Calories, 5% DV Potassium, 5% DV Carbs, 15g Sugar, 6% DV Vitamin C, 5% DV Vitamin B-6
Grapes are a great tasting fruit and one of the most versatile. They’re used to make raisins, vinegars, wines, jams, jellies and juices, among other things. A cup of grapes is low in fat and relatively low in carbs and calories. But the reason grapes taste so good is because they’re so sweet. And that sweetness comes from 15 grams of sugar per serving. Also, grapes don’t stand out in vitamin content, offering only 6 percent of your daily vitamin C, 5 percent of your daily vitamin B-6 and 1 percent (or less) of your daily magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin B-12.
One Cup Sliced Avocados: 234 Calories, 21g Fat, 20% DV Potassium, 4% DV Carbs, 40% DV Fiber, 1g Sugar, 24% Vitamin C, 20% Vitamin B-6, Magnesium 10%
You may think that the main ingredient of guacamole is a vegetable, but avocados are actually fruits. Regardless of how you classify them, they’re a nutritional powerhouse. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat (both “good fats”) make up roughly 80 percent of an avocado’s fat content, and both reduce the risk of heart disease while improving cholesterol levels.
A cup of sliced avocado contains 20 percent of your daily potassium and 40 percent of your daily fiber, plus a respectable 3 grams of protein. Avocados contain nearly 20 different vitamins and minerals per serving, most notably 24 percent of your daily vitamin C, 20 percent of your daily vitamin B-6 and 10 percent of your daily magnesium. They provide many of the nutrients you might miss by munching on grapes, and their extremely low sugar content solidifies their status as a perfect complementary fruit.
3. Stand-By: Apples
Medium Apple: 95 Calories, 5% DV Potassium, 8% DV Carbs, 17% DV Fiber, 19g Sugar, 14% DV Vitamin C, 5% DV Vitamin B-6
If America had a national fruit, it’d probably be the apple. Johnny Appleseed is a folk hero, apple pie is our unofficial national dessert, and the average American consumes 9.5 pounds of apples annually. A medium-sized apple has under 100 calories, virtually no fat and a solid amount of fiber. Apples are also packed with antioxidants, some of which help prevent cancer and immune disease. These are all good things. But that same apple contains 19 grams of sugar (almost as much as a serving of ice cream) and it lacks some key vitamins. Apples contain only 14 percent of your daily vitamin C, for example. Although they are among the most popular fruits, eating solely apples is not a smart approach to fruit consumption.
One Cup Raspberries: 65 Calories, 5% DV Potassium, 5% DV Carbs, 32% DV Fiber, 5g Sugar, 53% DV Vitamin C, 5% DV Vitamin B-6, 6% DV Magnesium, 4% DV Iron
The two biggest factors that make raspberries a good change-up to apples are their vitamin C and sugar content. Raspberries contain 53 percent of your daily vitamin C (nearly four times as much as apples) and only 5 grams of sugar. They’ve also got more calcium, iron and magnesium than apples, and nearly twice the fiber. Iron and magnesium can both have a big impact on athletic performance. They even have more antioxidants and fewer calories than apples. The common phrase of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” makes it sound like apples are the only fruit you need to eat. Yes, they’re certainly nutritious, but not that nutritious. No one fruit is. Keeping your fruit diet diverse will ensure that you’re getting the full slate of benefits that produce can offer.
4. Stand-By: Iceberg Lettuce
One Cup Iceberg Lettuce: 8 Calories, 5% Vitamin A
A staple of salads everywhere, iceberg lettuce represents a classic case of a vegetable that’s good for you—but not as good as many others. Iceberg lettuce is 95 percent water, which is both a good and a bad thing in terms of nutrition. It’s very low in calories and fat, but also low in vitamins and minerals. One cup of shredded iceberg lettuce has 8 calories and virtually no fat, sodium or sugar. All great numbers. But it also only has .7 grams of fiber, 5 percent of your daily vitamin A, 2 percent of your daily vitamin C and 1 percent or less of your daily calcium, iron, vitamin B-6, vitamin D and magnesium. Iceberg lettuce is so low in nutrients, it’s hard to call it a vegetable. Again, it’s not a bad food—but it’s basically just water. You should be looking for a more than that from your veggies.
One Cup Kale: 33 Calories, 9% DV Potassium, 2.9g Protein, 134% DV Vitamin C, 10% DV Vitamin B-6, 133% DV Vitamin A, 10% DV Calcium, 5% DV Iron, 7% DV Magnesium
If iceberg lettuce is one of your go-to veggies, kale is the best food to supply its missing nutrients. There’s a reason everyone has gone kale-crazy lately: it’s really good for you. One cup of kale contains a mere 33 calories and .6 grams of fat, but it packs 9 percent of your daily potassium and three grams of protein.
But where kale really shines is in vitamins and minerals. It delivers 133 percent of your daily vitamin A and 134 percent of your daily vitamin C. That’s more vitamin C than an orange! And the good doesn’t stop there. Kale has a significant amount of iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B-6. Who knew such a simple weed could be so nutritionally impressive? If you count iceberg lettuce in a salad as a serving of vegetables, make an effort to include kale in your diet. Your body will be happy you did.
5. Stand-By: Onions
Medium Onion: 44 Calories, 4% DV Potassium, 3% DV Carbs, 7% DV Fiber, 4.7g Sugar, 13% Vitamin C, 5% Vitamin B-6
Slicing them might make you shed a tear, but Americans haven’t shied away from onions. In 2012, the average American consumed 8.1 pounds of onions, third most of any vegetable. A popular additional topping, onions play diverse roles in the kitchen. But how do they measure up nutritionally? Much like iceberg lettuce, onions are low in calories and fat but also shy in vitamins and minerals.
An onion has a small amount of vitamin C , fiber and vitamin B-6, but that’s about it in terms of vitamins and minerals. It might surprise you to learn that an onion contains nearly 5 grams of sugar. They are not bad in your diet, but if you consistently count onions for your daily serving of vegetables, you definitely need to supplement them with a more nutrient-packed piece of produce.
One Serving Broccoli: 50 Calories, 13% DV Potassium, 3% DV Carbs, 15% DV Fiber, 2.5g Sugar, 4.2g Protein, 220% DV Vitamin C, 15% DV Vitamin B-6, 18% DV Vitamin A, 6% DV Iron, 7% DV Magnesium, 7% DV Calcium
Remember when you were a kid and your mom had to force you to eat your broccoli? You should totally thank her, because broccoli is one of the best vegetables. One serving contains only 50 calories and virtually no fat, while packing 15 percent of your daily fiber, 13 percent of your daily potassium and a respectable 4.2 grams of protein. And broccoli is strong where onions are not, sporting solid totals of vitamin A, vitamin B-6, calcium, magnesium, iron and a whopping 220 percent of your daily vitamin C. That’s almost as much vitamin C as two servings of orange juice! Like many vegetables, the preparation/cooking methods of broccoli can affect its nutrition. Lightly cooking it is a smart option.
6. Stand-By: Eggplant
One Cup Eggplant: 20 Calories, 5% DV Potassium, 10% DV Fiber, 2.9g Sugar, 3% DV Vitamin C, 5% DV Vitamin B-6
Perhaps most popular as a vegetarian-friendly substitute for meat, eggplant is a versatile food with great texture. Although it’s technically a fruit, most people think of it as a veggie. As such, people expect big things from it in terms of nutrition. And eggplant lives up to those expectations to some extent, as it is super low in calories and fat and a solid source of fiber.
But a closer glance at eggplant’s nutritional facts reveals a lot of low numbers in vitamins and minerals. A cup of eggplant has 5 percent of your daily vitamin B-6 and 3 percent of your daily vitamin C, sure, but that’s about it. Like iceberg lettuce and onions, eggplant is mostly water. That means it’s super low in calories and fat, but it doesn’t have much else going for it.
Change-Up: Brussels Sprouts
One Cup Brussels Sprouts: 38 Calories, 9% DV Potassium, 13% DV Fiber, 3g Protein, 124% DV Vitamin C, 10% DV Vitamin B-6, 6% DV Iron, 5% DV Magnesium, 13% DV Vitamin A, 3% DV Calcium
These tiny green guys are packed with nutrients and make for a tasty side dish. Like eggplant, brussels sprouts are low in calories and fat. Unlike eggplant, they pack a diverse vitamin and mineral punch. A single cup provides 3 grams of protein, 13 percent of your daily fiber, 9 percent of your daily potassium, 13 percent of your daily vitamin A, 10 percent of your daily vitamin B-6 and a whopping 124 percent of your daily vitamin C. They also have a significant amount of iron, magnesium and calcium. You may not be used to eating Brussels sprouts, but their awesome nutritional facts make them a great addition to any meal. And despite what your childhood memories might lead you to believe, they taste pretty good!