This is a question I seemed to get asked all the time. I totally get how confusing the whole sugar/fruit thing is. We are told all the time to watch our sugar intake but at the same time we are told to make sure we consume plenty of fruit to keep us healthy. After all, an apple a day keeps the doctor away! So what’s a girl to do, eat fruit or not? I know, I know, its beyond confusing so I thought I would try to clear a few things up regarding sugar and fruit so that you can eat that fruit salad for breakfast without worrying that it’s going to send you into a sugar overload.
Ok, so to answer the question “Is the sugar in fruit bad for you?” the answer is yes, but bear with me here as I need to explain why. It’s not that the sugar in fruit is bad for you, it’s that the sugar in pretty much anything is bad for you. Sugar is sugar after all. Let me break this down for you.
There are two types of sugar. Glucose and Fructose. Glucose is the body’s primary source of energy that breaks down carbohydrate type foods to form glucose so that they can be used as energy. For example grains, sweet potato and rice. Fructose is naturally occurring in many plants, fruits and vegetables also found in items such as honey and maple syrup. So when you artificially combine fructose and glucose you create sucrose which is also known as table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. If you don’t already know, this is the most harmful kind of sugar and you can eliminate this from your diet by simply eradicating all processed foods. Easy.
Ok so we know we don’t want to eat sucrose right? Great, but what is the difference then between glucose and fructose and why is fructose worse? In very simple terms glucose triggers the release of hormones that tell your brain when you are full, whereas fructose doesn’t. This means your appetite is never appeased when eating fructose (fruit sugars). Also 80% of glucose is utilised by the cells whereas fructose only converts this into harmful triglycerides which only promote fat formation. We also don’t obtain any energy from fructose so we find ourselves eating more of it to give ourselves that boost we need.
So this might be a good time to explain why eating too much sugar can make you fat. If we eat too much fructose and our liver gets overloaded with it then it will turn to fat. The fat ends up in our blood and converts into the bad cholesterol we don’t want. This then lodges in our blood vessels and causes plaque and contributes to heart attacks. Yikes! So fat doesn’t actually make us fat, it’s sugar that makes us fat! Crazy huh? That’s why going for the full fat option in the shops is normally a good idea as the low fat option will normally have been replaced with sugar to make up for the loss of taste due to the fat being taken out. Anyway I’m digressing here.
Now you are probably thinking to yourself that you are never going to touch a piece of fruit ever again at this point. Well hold on just a minute, now I’m going to tell you the benefits that you gain from eating fruit. Yes fruit containing sugar! I know, it’s confusing. Nutrition is funnily enough the only field whereby you can get opposing studies on a subject that can both be true.
Ok so eating whole fruit has the following benefits:
- Phytonutrients that help your body fight disease and maintain cell health.
- Antioxidants which balance out the harmful free radicals that roam your body.
- Fiber which helps to protect against heart disease and lowers your bad cholesterol.
- Vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, C, D K, potassium and folate just to name a few.
- Overall, eating a fruit filled diet can help you to maintain a healthy blood pressure, reduce your risk of a heart attack, reduce your risk of a stroke and even protect you from certain types of cancers.
When fructose in fruit is consumed moderately (1-3 whole pieces of fruit a day) most people can break this down easily due to the fiber in the whole fruit so the health benefit coming from fruit outweighs the worries about the sugar in it. You have to look at the bigger picture, it’s the added sugars that we need to worry about, not the sugar in fruit, this is unless you have a diet extremely high in fruit and not much else. I’ve had people ask me before “Can eating too much fruit cause you to develop diabetes? In actual fact yes, it can. This is caused by too much sugar in the blood which leads to insulin resistance which can then be a precursor to type two diabetes. Anyway this is only in extreme examples so nothing for you to worry about.
If you are interested however in how much sugar is in certain fruits (as it varies a lot) then I’m going to briefly introduce you to the glycemic index. So the glycemic index is the effect that a carbohydrate containing food has on your blood sugar levels. (Fruits and vegetables are actually classed as carbohydrates). So some fruits are low and some fruits are high. The higher the number on the scale the higher the sugar in the fruit and the higher your blood sugar will rise. So here are some examples to give you an idea:
- In at the lowest we have cherries at 20 and grapefruit at 25.
- In at the middle you have apples at 37, nectarines at 43 and berries generally between 40-50.
- And right at the top you have papaya at 59, pineapple at 66 and watermelon at an astonishing 72!
The bottom line here is, yes fruit does contain sugar and yes in very high doses it could be harmful to your body but isn’t that the case with everything? We need fat in our diet as without it we wouldn’t be able to absorb nutrients properly and support cell growth, but if we eat too much of it then it can be harmful to us also. Thats why as a Health Coach I promote a healthy balanced diet full of whole unprocessed foods. Try and make sure your diet consists of a combination of healthy fats and protein, good carbohydrates and a variety of whole fruit and vegetables. That way your body will get exactly what it needs in order to thrive.
Remember though friends, healthy sugars such as fruit, honey, agave and maple syrup are still sugar at the end of the day so next time your cover your healthy, vegan pancakes with a pool of maple syrup and a mountain of fruit, just be mindful that it’s still sugar. Just like everything in life, it’s all about balance.
So how much sugar do you think you eat in a day and was this helpful in clearing up the confusion around sugar and fruit? I would love to hear from you.
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