Fruit is really indispensable in a well regulated diet. Formerly it was considered an accessory, rather than an essential food, and was eaten mainly for its flavor and refreshing qualities. The food value of most fruits is not high, but the mineral salts they contain are necessary to good health. A person who eats quantities of fruit is usually in excellent health and has a clear complexion, due to the body regulating qualities of the various mineral salts and organic acids contained in fruit. These organic acids impart an agreeable acid flavor and help to keep the blood in good condition. Most fruits contain a large proportion of water, also of value in the diet.
The digestibility of fruit depends upon both the nature of the fruit and its degree of ripeness. Neither under nor over ripe fruits are fit to eat raw. The over-ripe fruit should be discarded, as it is unfit to use under any condition; the under-ripe fruit may be cooked and then is easily digested. Starch is present in unripe fruit, but is changed in the ripe fruit into sugar and gums.
Uncooked starch is not easily digested, while just the opposite is true of the fruit sugars, which very seldom cause digestive troubles, such as may be produced from cane sugar. Eating under-ripe fruit often causes serious results, especially when eaten by children. In the unripe condition the starch has not been changed to sugar, and the fruit, being very firm, is probably not masticated completely, making it still harder to digest. A ripe peach would be more easily digested than a firm apple, even though the apple were perfectly ripe.
Prunes, figs, dates, raisins, and bananas have a higher food value than other fruits. All these, excepting the banana, contain a quantity of sugar, as well as mineral salts. Bananas are largely starch, and for this reason should be perfectly ripe or cooked before eating. All children are especially fond of bananas, but it is much safer to bake this fruit than to allow them to eat it raw, for it is usually sold under-ripe. When the banana is in a fit condition to eat raw, the skin has become dark and the pulp dry and mealy. Cooking is really a ripening process, and fruits not sufficiently ripe to eat raw are wholesome after cooking.
Raw fruits have a much greater tonic value than the cooked fruit, but to many persons the raw fruit is indigestible; and as cooking softens the fruit and converts the starch into sugar, it is then more easily digested. As the cooking process drives out the mineral salts and acids into the liquid in which the fruit is cooked, this juice must be served with the fruit, or much of its value is lost. Many of the valuable mineral salts are found just beneath the skin, so these should be retained as far as possible.
Most children naturally crave fruit, and this desire should be gratified and not considered an indulgence. It is nature's way of demanding this health-giving, bone-building material. Even babies, after three months old, are given small quantities of orange or prune juice, gradually increasing the amount as the child grows older. Fruit beverages offer an opportunity to introduce acids and salts into the system. These are always found refreshing. Do not serve too sweet, or they will not quench the thirst.
Uncooked acid fruits should not be served in combination with starchy foods, as this frequently causes indigestion. If cereal is to be served in combination with fruit, the fruit should be cooked, or of a variety which is sweet, not acid. As fruit contains a quantity of water, very little should be used when cooking. Sugar should not be added until the fruit is cooked.
Dried fruits should be thoroughly cleaned, then soaked in water to cover for several hours, in order to regain the moisture which has been evaporated. They should be cooked in the liquid in which they were soaked, heating very slowly and keeping under the boiling point until tender. The slow cooking develops the natural fruit sugars. Prunes, raisins, and figs will require no sugar. Other dried fruits may need a small quantity.
Fruit salads offer splendid opportunities for serving both fresh and cooked fruits. Such salads may be served as a salad course or used for dessert. Fruit cocktails are palatable and serve as an appetizer for dinner.
The addition of sugar to cooked fruit greatly increases its nutritive value and cooking sugar at a high temperature in conjunction with the acid of the fruit brings about the inversion of the sugar, which is one of the first steps in its digestion.
If the family does not care for fruits between meals, which is really one of the best times to eat them, see that fruit in some form is furnished for at least one meal a day, for it is a necessary part of the daily diet. Do not consider fruit an extravagance and an accessory. If we are to have healthy bodies, fruit is an essential, and although its actual food value, if fresh, is not high, its health-giving properties are a necessity.