By Susan Marquez, MS, RD, CSSD
Apricots are a “stone fruit,” which means that a hard covering (the “stone” or pit) surrounds the large seed at the fruit’s core. This covering supports the fruit as it hangs off the tree, and it provides passages for nutrients to flow to the fruit.
In the United States, the first major production of apricots was recorded in California in 1792. California continues to be the leading apricot-producing state, with over 90 percent of apricots in the U.S. being produced there.
There are several different varieties of apricots. The Patterson variety is used most widely, and the Blenheim variety is used primarily for dried apricot production.
The harvest period for apricots typically begins in May and ends in early July. They can be canned, frozen, dried, eaten fresh, pureed, or made into a juice or concentrate.
Apricots are known to have high amounts of flavonoids, plant compounds whose antioxidant effects can reduce inflammation and help prevent cell damage. The fruit’s skin, if consumed, is a good source of fiber. Apricots are also an excellent source of iron, potassium, magnesium and beta carotene.
Recent studies have shown that apricot kernel oil can help inhibit the growth of tumors, and eating organic, sun-dried apricots has beneficial effects on liver regeneration.
The beta carotene in apricots is a provitamin—a substance that converts to a vitamin in the body—of vitamin A. Vitamin A is found to help immune function and keep eyes healthy. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin A is 900 micrograms retinol activity equivalents (RAE) per day for men, and 700 micrograms RAE per day for women. RAE is the measure of Vitamin A that can be absorbed by the body. For reference, one apricot contains about 33 micrograms RAE of vitamin A.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it can be absorbed with fat or oil and stored inside the body’s fatty tissue. Because vitamin A can be stored in our bodies, it is important to know that vitamin A intake should be limited to no more than 3000 micrograms per day for adults to prevent toxicity and adverse effects.
How to Enjoy
Apricots are a really delicious, versatile fruit with numerous health benefits. Try some of the following tips to add them into your diet:
• Add some sweetness to salads, couscous, or quinoa by tossing in some dried or fresh apricots.
• For a lower-fat sweet treat, substitute apricot puree for the fat (butter or oil) in recipes for baked goods.
• Dice dried apricots and add them to nuts to create your trail mix.
• Use canned or fresh apricots for a pie filling.