Let's get this disclaimer out of the way first: Americans don't eat nearly as much fruit as they should to maintain a healthy diet, so nutrition experts advise eating fruit, whole fruit, as often as possible, at least two cups of it a day, striving for variety so that you get an array of important nutrients.

And now to the question at hand: When faced with the triumvirate of fresh fruit most commonly found in bowls at cafeterias and elsewhere-apples, oranges and bananas-which should you choose? Which fruit is nutritionally superior when you must choose just one?

It turns out comparing apples and oranges isn't totally bananas. And the orange, by at least one measure, has an edge. "If you consider the concentration of a wide array of nutrients relative to calories, the orange is the most nutritious, followed by the apple, followed by bananas," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and the author of "Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well."

Oranges win based on the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, a measure developed by Katz and colleagues that considers more than 30 nutrients and nutrition factors, giving points for the good (protein, calcium, vitamins) and subtracting points for the bad (sugar, sodium, cholesterol). The quality of the macronutrients, such as glycemic load, is also a factor.

NuVal rates foods from 1 to 100, with 100 being the most nutritious. Oranges have a perfect score of 100, earning more credit than apples (96) and bananas (91) due to high concentrations of vitamin C, fiber, calcium, folate, bioflavonoids and carotenoids. But any one of these fruits is highly nutritiously desirable. To compare, skinless chicken breast has a NuVal score of 39 and Cheerios come in at 4.  

Of course, some people dislike peeling oranges, and apples and bananas can be superior in particular circumstances, such as when you're really hungry or have high blood pressure, said Andrea Giancoli, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Katz and Giancoli described some of the virtues of the Big Three fruits to help guide your pick. Basic nutrition facts are from the USDA.

ORANGE

Calories: 60
Fat: 0
Carbohydrates: 15 grams
Dietary fiber: 3 g
Sugar: 12 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Protein: 1 g

One orange contains 120 percent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C. A good source of calcium, folates, thiamin, flavanones (antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals) and naringin (an anti-inflammatory that may help protect the immune system), Giancoli said. Biggest nutritional bang for the caloric buck, Katz said. Because they are lowest in calories, it isn't the best choice when you are really hungry, Katz said.

APPLES

Calories: 100
Fat: o
Carbohydrates: 25 grams
Dietary fiber: 4 g
Sugar: 19 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Protein: 0 g

A good source of soluble fiber, which is helpful in controlling blood pressure, lipids, cholesterol and blood sugar, Katz said. Because it involves a lot of chewing, it can make you feel more satisfied, Katz said. Good for an upset stomach, Giancoli said. Loaded with phytochemicals, including antioxidants flavonoids like quercetin, which is good for heart health and could have anti-cancer properties, and proanathocyanidins, which may protect urinary tract and heart health, Giancoli said.

BANANA

Calories: 105
Fat: 0.4 g
Carbohydrates: 27 g
Dietary fiber: 3 g
Sugar: 14 g
Sodium: 1 mg
Protein: 1 g

Contains 422 mg of potassium, which people often don't get enough of. Potassium helps blunt the effect of salt on blood pressure and may help reduce the risk of kidney stones and muscle loss, Giancoli said. Good source of vitamin B6, magnesium, iron, vitamin C and dietary fiber, Giancoli said.

By ALEXIA ELEJALDE-RU
Chicago Tribune

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