Guest blog by Sam Hadadi,
From refreshing watermelons to plump, juicy peaches and glistening apples, we love our fruit.
Naturally sweet and nutritious, fruit really is nature’s candy. Yet with so much simmering in the media about the effect of sugars on the body (including that found in fruit), is it really that healthy for us? And if not, how much fruit should we be eating?
If you’ve ever found yourself peeling a banana and fretting over the high sugar content, then read on – here’s the Lucy Bee low-down on fruit sugars, packed with everything you need to know.
Right from a young age, we’re told to eat up more fruit and veg. The more we eat – the bigger the rainbow - the healthier we’ll be.
Delicious, full of antioxidants, fibre and natural vitamins and minerals, fruit can (at least on the surface) seem like nature’s perfect fast food. Yet, what that doesn’t count on is the side effects sugar can have on the body.
By now, we all know that sugar is ruining our health. Although many of us are drawn to sugary foods like bees to honey, we know it’s bad for us. We know that it’s, quite literally, a sugar trap for our health.
Now, long gone are the days where high fat diets were demonised, when health experts insisted that we’d have to cut back on fatty foods to lose weight and shape up. No longer are we feeling anxious about adding milk, cheese, coconut oil or red meat to our supermarket baskets. Instead, it’s sugar that is now 'Public Enemy Number One'.
Across the world, people like you and I are hopping on the “No Sugar” bandwagon. We’re arming ourselves with recipes, books and guidance, determined to give up the white stuff in return for a healthier, fitter self. Like it or lump it, sugar, we’re through…
Yet what about fruit, we hear you cry? Surely you can still enjoy nature’s sweeteners instead of the sugar you find in bowls on tables? Surely fruit is better for you than even honey, or maple syrup and agave – the so-called “healthier” sweeteners?
Low in calories and incredibly tasty, loading up our plate with fruit can seem like a dietary no-brainer. Not only does your body get to enjoy all manner of nutrient powerhouses but that pesky sweet tooth gets satisfied too. However, to understand the effects that fruit has on our body, we need to firstly understand which sugars are found in fruit.
First things first - sugars come in different forms – namely, sucrose, glucose and fructose. Fruit contains fructose. Table sugar, FYI, the kind that we stir into our tea, is a simple chemical molecule in which glucose and fructose have been joined to form sucrose.
The thing is, every cell on this planet (including those in our body) contains glucose – it’s vital to life. As Beth Warren, a registered dietician, says: “Carbohydrates break down into glucose, your body's main source of fuel.”
However, fructose affects us differently - humans don’t produce fructose and it’s metabolised in the liver. In fact, as such different sugars, glucose and fructose are metabolised very differently by the body. While every cell in the body can use glucose, our liver is the only organ that can process fructose in large amounts.
The problem with this is that despite being a low GI, when people eat a diet that is high both in calories and in fructose, the liver will get overloaded. The fructose is then stored as fat. As one scientist says1, “(the liver will) turn excess fructose into liver fat. That starts a cascade of insulin resistance (insulin promotes sugar uptake from blood) which leads to chronic metabolic disease, including diabetes and heart disease.”
Scientists also believe that, instead of helping to satisfy us, fructose can trick our brains into thinking that we aren’t full, so we overeat. While we know that too much sugar – of any kind – is bad for us, our liver turns any excess fructose into triglycerides, which then get turned into fat all over the body.
So, more on that fructose. Well, the other thing you need to know is that it’s incredibly sweet (in fact, it’s the sweetest of all naturally occurring carbs2) and is found in honey, flowers, berries and most root vegetables, as well as your favourite fruits. In its pure form, it’s been used as a sweetener since the 19th century and can be used to help those with diabetes.
Sounds innocent enough, right? Yet fructose is also cheap to both make and produce (it happens to taste great, too). This means that fructose derived from sugar cane, sugar beets and corn will be added to all manner of supermarket foods, including bread, baked goods and even your packaged ready meal!
So, what health risks can be triggered by a diet high in fructose? Is it really that bad?
Although we have to point out that many of these health risks are linked with added sugars – NOT fruit sugars – if you consume a lot of fructose, then you can expect the following:
Worrying, isn’t it?
Yet, as if that weren’t enough, there’s even the scary fact that fructose has been linked to problems in school children. One report8 suggests that a higher intake of fructose by school-age children may wreak havoc on their health, increasing their future risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing LDL particle size.
Still not convinced? We’ll leave it with David Gillespie, an author who wrote "Sweet Poison" about his own decision to quit sugar. In his book1, David shares how shocked he was to learn “how many of our organs sugar systematically destroys without symptoms until it is too late. First the liver, then the pancreas, then the kidneys, and ultimately the heart.”
While we now know just how bad fructose can be bad for our health, should we really be avoiding it? After all, it’s the nutrient that nature put into berries and apples to encourage us (and animals) to eat them.
Of course, it’s important to remember that most health risks associated with fructose have been found to be from processed foods, which are often extremely high in the sugary stuff. In fact, most fructose (in the American diet, at least) comes not from fresh fruit, but from high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose (sugar).
With this in mind, should we stop eating fruit? Is it bad for us? To be truly sugar-free, do we need to ditch all the good stuff?
Well, no. Not really.
You see, fruit isn’t just pure fructose, pure sugar. Instead, it comes loaded with vitamins and minerals and it has a low energy density and provides us with plenty of fibre. What’s more, these same phytochemicals can protect against a whole host of health problems, including certain types of cancer and heart disease. Also, while fruit may well be sweetened by fructose, it doesn’t contain all that much. When you put it like that, doesn’t it it seem silly to cut out an entire food group?
As nutritionist Fiona Hunter says 9: "The idea that fruit is the enemy is fuelled by the current preoccupation with sugar but looking at one nutrient in isolation, without considering what else a food brings, is a real mistake."
Besides which, the World Health Organisation advises that eating a small amount of sugar each day - around six teaspoons - is fine. So long as we stick within those limits, and eat fruit – and other sources of natural sugars – in moderation, then you’re safe as houses.
Don’t believe us? Well, consider this: every day, we eat simple, natural sugars in unprocessed foods including fruit, dairy and even veggies. In fact, we have done for centuries. Before the worldwide sugar industry boomed, fructose in the human diet was limited to a few items – and obesity was never an issue. If this is the case, will a little bit of fruit fructose really hurt us that much?
But before you start shovelling away handfuls of fruit, most health experts suggest keeping your fruit consumption to two servings per day and limiting the higher sugar fruits (see our guide below). Health bod Beth Warren -says10: "I recommend people eat about six times a day, [keeping] three hours between each [serving of fruit]. That means snacks between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner can include some fruit.”
We’d also suggest you go easy on the OJ (orange juice!), too, or avoid it altogether. Since juice is liquid, it doesn’t get processed as much by the body before it hits the bloodstream, meaning your sugar levels will go through the roof. If you can’t go without your juice fix, why not try a fibre-loaded smoothie – with added veggies in, too – instead?
Of course, the amount of sugar found in fruit depends massively on the type you’re eating.
Juicy apple11? You can expect around 13g of sugar for every 100g of fruit consumed. Bananas have around 15g. However, if you are worried about your sugar intake – and it is a good idea to try to ensure you don’t go over your daily limit – then this handy guide should help you to stay on track:
Low Sugar Fruits (per 100g)
High Sugar Fruits (per 100g)
Data10: USDA National Nutrient Database
As you’ll see, avocado, raspberries, rhubarb, cranberries and blackberries are the way to go for one-time sugar addicts!
So, fruit is OK in moderation, but what about dried fruit? While your favourite dried apricots, dates, figs and raisins are richer in vitamins and minerals than raw fruit, they’re also higher in sugar. For example, a medium banana has 14 grams of sugar but the same serving of banana chips has 42 grams of sugar.
Worrying, right? And that’s without taking into consideration that after processing, some dried fruit is rolled in granulated sugar, making it comparable to candy in sugar content.
Wherever you can, try to avoid dried fruit and opt for fresher, raw varieties instead. Our only exception? Medjool dates! Not only do they taste like toffee but they’re also loaded with vitamins, minerals and health benefits – full of fibre, easily broken down by the body, high in energy and packed with antioxidants.
So, now we’ve convinced you that fruit really isn’t all that bad, what are you waiting for?Here are some of our favourite ways to use up nature’s candy. Enjoy!
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Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
The views and opinions expressed in videos and articles on the Lucy Bee website/s or social networking sites are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of Lucy Bee Limited.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.