Fruit is good for you. Shocking, right? You may be surprised to find out just how good, though, and just how important fruit is to our healthy diet. In fact, one 100-gram serving of fruit per day (about one medium-sized apple) can add years to your life, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers followed more than half a million Chinese adults for seven years, tracking what they ate, their lifestyle habits, and their overall health. They discovered that those who ate just one piece of fruit a day lowered their risk of dying from heart disease by one-third, even when controlling for other factors like smoking—and that was true for both men and women. (Here: 5 More Foods That Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease.)
The variety of fruit they ate didn't seem to matter (apples and oranges were among the common choices), but whether the fruit was raw or cooked did make a difference. Much of the fruit consumed in China is raw, which helps maintain the nutritional value and health benefits of the fruit. That means fruit snacks and highly processed apple sauce cups don't count (sorry!).
If fresh fruit isn't available where you are or is too expensive, frozen fruit is a good alternative, says another study from UC Berkley. Fruits frozen at the peak of ripeness may have even more vitamins and antioxidants than fresh ones that have been sitting in the supermarket for a week and then your fridge for a few days. (Try these Surprisingly Creative Ways to Cook with Frozen Fruit.) Just make sure you're getting plain frozen fruit without any added sugars or syrups—be particularly careful with pre-packaged frozen "smoothie blends" that often have lots of extra ingredients or artificial sugars.
If there's one big takeaway from these new findings, it's that every little bit counts. If adding just one tiny piece of fruit can have such huge health benefits, it's a no-brainer to drop an orange into your bag when you head out the door. Sometimes making healthy changes can feel overwhelming (you want to me exercise for an hour—almost every day?!), but this is one change that's totally doable.