Fruit: Friend or Foe? (And the Sweet Lowdown on Sugar…)

Fruit Punching

A few times now, I’ve come across articles in the media mainstream giving fruit bad press.  I’ve heard claims by diet happy touters that fruit is bad for you.  Even a current and very popular diet advises against eating fruit.  In conversation I’ve heard fruit likened to doughnuts and bananas to Snickers Bars.

Fruit?  Bad?  Really?

Come on…

You’d be a monkey not to eat bananas, and if it turns out they are bad for you, I’d be your uncle.

I’m miffed by irresponsible media that don’t do their homework and spread rumors that are untrue and hazardous to our health.  In this day and age, when we face an obesity pandemic, what we really need to focus our attention on is all the ill effects of processed, manufactured, and fast foods – the food-like products that we too frequently ingest, and which unfortunately substantiate a majority of our food intake – don’t have us fearing REAL food!

I wish that common sense prevailed when it comes to nutrition.  Fruit: food from the earth, nourisher, quencher, delicious morsels of life, is good for you.  I’m discouraged that this is even questioned, and in-fact it frightens me a little…

But I digress.

Let me try and dispel some myths about fruit, and make a few points more clear.

First, let’s examine the claim accusation often made against fruit: fruit contains sugar, and therefore is bad for you.

The Bitter of Sweetness

OK.  Yes.  Fruit contains sugar (saccharides).

But, beyond natural meat and oil products, sugars, the building blocks of carbohydrates, are widespread, and to some extent, found in all other naturally occurring foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains/starches and dairy products.  They are what fuel us.

 

In fruit, we mainly find the sugars fructose and glucose, which are classified as monosaccharides (single sugar molecules).  Combined, they are the disaccharide (two sugar molecules) sucrose, or your common table sugar.   Monosaccharides and disaccharides are simple sugars, or carbohydrates in their simplest form, and a main energy source for our cells.  In general, we want to avoid eating simple carb foods because when digested they are typically absorbed very quickly, spike our blood sugar levels, and provide us with immediate energy, which is often followed by a crash, low energy, and subsequent cravings for more energy rich food.  Not to mention, any sugars that can not be immediately used/stored for energy in the muscles and liver can be converted into fat for storage.

This is unlike polysacharides, or complex carbs, which are made of multiple chains of glucose molecules, that digest slowly, and are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, broken down for energy as needed, thus providing us with sustained energy.

Ah, I see: simple sugars, really put the f-u in fruit.

But wait!  There’s more to it than that…

When assessing the sugar content of food, we can’t simply take it at face value.

How Sweet It Is

Sugars from different foods will affect us in different ways, mainly by how fast they are digested and absorbed into the blood stream, which depend on the type of sugar they contain (simple vs. complex) among other factors.  The faster they are absorbed, the more up and down effect they have on our energy levels and appetites, and the more havoc they can wreak on our overall health.   How fast our blood sugars rise after ingesting foods is quantified by the glycemic index.  Basically, the glycemic index is a point system, from 0-100: the higher a food is rated on the glycemic index, the less desirable, the lower, the better.  Anything rated at 55 or below is considered to have a low GI, 56-69 a medium GI, and above 70 a high GI.

How does fruit measure up? source.

How does fruit measure up? source.

Where does fruit generally rate on the glycemic index?  I’m glad you asked.

Almost all fruit has a low rated glycemic, a few mid-range, and even fewer (very few) high.

But who cares if blood sugar rises slowly?  What if a fruit has a tonne of sugar, slow rise or not, doesn’t that matter?  

 

Very astute.  Enter the glycemic load.

Like glycemic index, glycemic load refers to the carbohydrate content in a food.  But instead of ranking the food on how fast its sugars enter the blood stream, it’s a measure of how much carbohydrate is in the food.  The lower the glycemic load the better, and again it follows a 3 tiered rating system: 10 or less is low, 11-19 is medium, and 20 is high.

Fruit, generally rates low.  Very few fruits are medium, and if fresh, I don’t know of any that are high.

So.  What have we learned?  The lower the GI the better and the lower the GL the better, but even if a food has a higher GI, it may have a low GL (such as watermelon), which overall gives it a fine glycemic rating.

Almost all fruit has a low-med glycemic index and glycemic load.  This is good news for fruit and for those whom eat it!

But, to be fair, if eaten in high quantities any sugar is bad for you.

Where we want to watch our step is when we come across processed or refined foods, and foods that contain sugar as an additive, not real food (i.e fruit).

Sweet Demise

Processed foods (like frozen dinners, snack bars, crackers, etc.) often contain simple sugars and have little to no nutritional value.  Refined foods (such as white rice) are typically stripped of their natural fibre and nutrients, and also so are more simple in their carbohydrate content.   Sugar as an additive, is more or less an extra caloric kick to the face with no nutritional value.

In-fact, sugar additives are estimated to provide up to 10-13% of the average Canadian’s daily energy intake, and High fructose corn-syrup (HFCS) is probably the number one culprit, and is also likely what gives fruit a bad rap.

Out Damn HFCS! Out I Say! source.

Out Damn HFCS! Out I Say! source.

HFCS is found in abundance among our processed food and beverages, and is often attributed to leading the rise in obesity and type II diabetes.  .  HFCS is a corn syrup, an already processed form of corn starch, that has then been further altered to convert some of it’s glucose into fructose, a sweeter sugar, making HFCS an overall sweeter product than regular table sugar.  (Although HFCS may be molecularly natural, it has still been altered so doesn’t occur naturally

But the scope of this post isn’t to join the ongoing debate of the actual role of HFCS, what I want to emphasize is that sugar, when consumed in large quantities as an additive to “food”, is down right bad.

Plain and simple.

And here’s a common argument often made to maliciously frame fruit as an undesirable:

  • Fructose is found in all fruit, and commonly referred to as fruit sugar.
  • Fructose is also found in HFCS, in-fact, it’s been designed to have an extremely high fructose content to heighten sweetness.
  • HFCS has been correlated to the rise in obesity among nations with higher HFCS consumption.
  • Therefore, High Fructose Corn Syrup = bad, so in the minds of many, fructose = bad, and therefore fruit is frequently (and unjustly) found guilty by association.

Hmmmm, interesting non-fact based assumptive reasoning my dear Watson….

The innocence of fruit:

HFCS products are fructose-sucrose injections that we can most do without.  HFCS, is added to food to make it sweeter, in a far too easily digestible and absorbable form, always found in simple carb, processed foods, and it holds no nutritional value: sans fibre, sans nutrients, sans whole food goodness.

Now fruit, on the other hand, is as natural as natural can be, and so is the fructose and sucrose contained within.  The sugars in fruit are found in quantities that nature intended, in a naturally digestible form, and are only one component of fruit my friends!

Fruit is not just simply a sugar or energy vehicle, unlike soda-pop which is basically a sugar IV, there are other elements delivered in fruit that compliment and even somewhat tame the effects of the sugar within: fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and aitch two oh.

This is a far cry from the sugar packed calorie bombs often ingested that do no more for us nutritionally than a combo #3, $4.99, please drive through to window number 1…

So let’s not jump to conclusions before we have the whole picture.  Although, typically, foods containing simple carbs are not energetically ideal and lack in nutritional value – fruit is a delightful exception!

Fruitfulness
Fibre is fun.

Dietary fibre is a non-digestible type of carbohydrate.  It’s the part of plant foods that you can’t absorb, passing through the digestive tract more-or-less intact, and contributes virtually no calories or food energy.

 

Due to its bulky nature, fibre leaves you feeling full longer and takes longer to pass from your stomach to your small intestine. Therefore, eating fibre rich foods helps you to feel fuller, and feel fuller longer, thus it takes more time before feeling hungry again, which helps curb caloric intake.  Not only that, fibre is so nice, it comes to you twice: soluble and insoluble fibre, each with their own particular benefits.

Soluble fibre dissolves in water to form a gel like substance and acts as a GI tract bouncer of sorts.  At the entrance it slows down the hyperactive crowd of sugars from getting in too fast.  By slowing down the digestion of sugars, it helps to steady blood sugar levels, which in turn can help to prevent or manage diabetes.  Then, as it passes through the intestines, it will arm lock and full-nelson certain food components (including cholesterol!), the bowel rift raff you’re happy to evict, to finally dump them out the back exit as it finishes its shift.

Thanks soluble fibre.  You’re invited to the next party for sure.

Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, does not dissolve in water, but instead absorbs water much like a sponge, basically entering and exiting your system in its same intact form, and helps to bulk up your stools and soften them at the same time, easing bowel movements and preventing constipation.  More like a fecal escort of sorts, insoluble fibre helps to shuffle along the contents of your meals to prevent them from lingering, and gets them to their porcelain home safe, sound, and in a timely fashion.

So what type of fibre do we find in fruit?

Both!

Some fruits have more fibre than others, and some have more of one type of fibre than the other, but the important point to note is if you eat a fruit in its full form (i.e. peel and eat the whole orange, don’t juice it), you’re going to get all the benefits of its fibre content.  So don’t worry about comparing apples to oranges to determine the quantity and quality of fibre in each, or try and figure how to get more of one over the other, just keep it simple: eat a variety and you’ll be sure to get enough of each.

Fruit fibre fills us up, keeps us full, cleans us out, and even helps to pace the entry of it’s own sugar content, plus it contains the water needed so the fibre within can do its thing.  

Genius.

(Fr)Utopia

 

Fruit is jam packed with phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to pleasure your cells, and fill you with vim and vigour, radiance, energy, good health, and toxin fighting power.

Basically, fruit is medicine equipped with it’s own built in spoon full of sugar to help it go down.

Magnificent.

 

Water = Life.

Fruit is full of it.  Enough said.

 

 

 

 

 

UN-Forbidden Fruit

OK.  We now understand that fruit is bursting at the seams with indispensable goodness.

Need I say more?  Nope.

…But I will.

First off, fruit is delicious.  I rarely meet someone who does not like fruit, and if that’s you, enjoying healthy food is often just a matter of re-educating your palette and changing habits.

Fruit is a gift from a nature, made of water, sunlight, atmosphere, and nutrients from the Earth’s soil.

Fruit offers a variety of supple fleshes, scents, and textures, that burst of quenching and refreshing juices and natural sweetness.  It grows and hangs from trees and vines, ready to be plucked, peeled, or eaten as is. 

The ultimate fast food.

Thank you very much…

So in general, you really can’t go wrong with fruit, but if you insist in having some guidelines that takes this all in to affect, based on GI and GL I would suggest the following:

  • Berries – fresh or frozen, have at ‘er.
  • Winter fruits – fresh (not canned) – don’t let me stop you.
  • Summer fruits – fresh (not canned) – the season’s so short, get ’em while you can.
  • Tropical fruits and melons – go easy, but don’t shun them.
  • Dried fruit – easy does it.
  • Canned fruit (especially in syrup) – maybe not so much.

Contraindications?  Those with diabetes may need to monitor their fruit intake and those with certain gastro-intestinal disorders may need to be weary of the type of fibre you’re getting; consult your healthcare provider.

Otherwise, just be smart.

Enjoy a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit, veg, water, and common sense.

EAT. source.

EAT.  source. 

And, before anyone decides to harp on fruit, here’s my ultimate recommendation: wait until your diet is clean of processed foods and nutrient vacant simple carbs, and you’re getting enough fibre every day (from real food), and  meeting your quota for fruits, veg and water, to get picky.

Until then: nourish yourself with real food. 

Eat fruit.  The whole fruit.  Eat a variety. 

It’s good for you.

Just Sayin’ – j

 

My favourite way to enjoy the invaluable gift of fruit?  I start each day off with a blended (not juiced) fruit smoothie.  A minimum of 3 servings of fruit.  Give it a try – enjoy the fruits of your labour. Share with us your favourite smoothie combo of the moment in the comments below.  I’ll go first…

Comments

  1. Wow, this article is fastidious, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds
    of things, therefore I am going to inform her.

  2. Awesome! I do have a question though, for all of you – do you really feel full until your next meal with these smoothies? I love the smoothie, but I find that by lunch time I can only think of eating, everything else is gone from my mind! I often have additional grains – muesli, porridge, whole wheat sugar-free pancakes…I guess complex carbohydrates – and it keeps me from crashing by lunch. Jared, am I wrecking it? 🙂

    • Smoothies in the morning definitely don’t keep me full until lunch, I just like to start here to get a good nutrition boost first thing. I’m usually feeling peckish again 1-2 hours later, and often will snack on mixed nuts throughout the am which serves me well.

      Remember, the more fibre in your smoothie the slower the gastric emptying, meaning the fuller you’ll feel for longer. Be sure to keep the skins on fruits that won’t kill the taste/texture (i.e. apples, kiwis, pears), and maybe consider adding some extra fibre like ground flax seeds, hemp seeds or chia seeds (these also contain antioxidants, plant based omega-3 fatty acids, and protein – all fantastic additions!). Protein has also been shown to delay gastric emptying, and some like to add yogurt or milks to their smoothies…

      As for “wrecking it” depends on what you’re trying not to wreck? If you’re eating something in addition to your smoothies that is whole, nutritious and doesn’t tip your daily caloric balance in a bad way – go for it!

      Hope that helps!

  3. Great article Jared – Your last part about not getting picky until your diet is steam cleaned is awesome.

    So my morning smoothie is usually some variation of the following:
    -Blend up a fistful of spinach or greens (kale, chard, etc.) with a cup or so of water
    -add 2 tbsp or so of chia seed and blend again
    -now add frozen blueberries and maybe a banana or cored apple
    -if I want a little extra sweetness I put a tbsp or so of maple syrup

    Yum!

    • Sounds good! I like your addition of chia seeds too, for that extra fibre, protein and antioxidant punch! (Plus some Omega-3, though not as good as animal sourced Omega-3… maybe I’ll leave that for another post…)

      Blend on!

  4. Love the article, my morning ritual is half a banana, blueberrys, blackberries, plain natural yogurt, flax seed, and topped off with milk, or water.

  5. Inspiring! I think it’s time for my afternoon apple. Thanks for pulling fruit from under the bus!

  6. 1 sm grapefruit, 1 sm orange, 1 kiwi, 1/2 cup blueberries, 1/2 cup raspberries, handful of green grapes and a fistful of cilantro + water…

    yum.

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