The great debate: is it OK to consume sugary fruits?
Don’t grab that banana for breakfast! It’s a tropical fruit and is full of fructose. Terrible – at least if you listen to some.
Modern media has put sugar through the grinder of late. There are headlines claiming that ‘sugar is the devil’ and studies which suggest it’s ‘more addictive than cocaine’. Even Cookie Monster has been put on a diet.
While some have become extremist about sugar, there is a general consensus among local and international experts that we should limit the amount of sugar we consume. Largely because it contributes to health issues such as obesity, diabetes and dental cavities.
So what exactly is sugar?
Sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose, cane juice crystals, agave, corn syrup, honey, molasses and treacle. Getting your head around all the different types and what is and isn’t theoretically OK is downright confusing.
Let us break it down for you:
- Fructose is a simple sugar found in fruits.
- Glucose (blood sugar) is a simple sugar found mainly in milk and dairy products.
- Dextrose is a simple sugar derived from starchy plants, namely corn, but is essentially the same as glucose. Biochemically the two are identical.
- Sucrose is made up of a combination of simple sugars – 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose. It’s often referred to as “table sugar” and is what most of us would sprinkle on our porridge.
Is all sugar bad?
According to Alan Barclay, accredited dietitian, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and Chief Scientific Officer at the Glycemic Index Foundation, there is no ‘hero’ sugar. In isolation, they are all essentially the same.
“All added sugars are devoid of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre by definition,” says Barclay. He adds that they all cause cavities, contain the same amount of kilojoules and can lead to unhealthy weight gain.
Where does this leave fruit?
The important thing to note is that fructose doesn’t exist in isolation when it’s contained in fruit. It’s ‘added’ sugar that we need to watch out for – when fructose (or other types of sugar) is added to processed food and drink, for example.
Barclay urges people to move away from the idea that fruit is bad simply because it contains fructose. Consumed whole and in its natural form, the fructose in fruit is accompanied by fibre, vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are essential for our bodies.
Robert Lustig, the pediatric endocrinologist who has become known as the “anti-sugar guy”, agrees.
“I have nothing against fruit, because it comes with its inherent fibre, and fibre mitigates the negative effects,” he says. “The way God made it, however much sugar is in a piece of fruit, there’s an equal amount of fibre to offset it.”
“Over consumption of fruit is where the problem with metabolising fructose occurs,” says Sydney nutritionist Jacqueline Alwill. “We can manage our fructose intake simply by moderating the amount of fruit we eat which is far better than demonising it.”
The guidelines recommend two serves of fruit a day. Stick to that and you’re sweet, Alwill says.
Not all fruits are created equal
We’ve established that eating fruit is fine, but is there any particular type of fruit or vegetable we should be eating more of?
According to Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, variety over quantity is key.
There is no single fruit or vegetable that provides all the nutrients you need to be healthy, so you should aim to eat a variety of types and colours to ensure you get everything your body needs.
Having said that, if for whatever reason you are trying to reduce the amount of high-fructose fruits you eat there are guidelines you can follow.
Lustig suggests that you keep your consumption of grapes to a minimum. “Grapes are just little bags of sugar. They don’t have enough fibre for the amount of sugar that’s in them,” he says.
I Quit Sugar’s, Sarah Wilson also suggests limiting grapes, as well as watermelon, bananas and mangoes due to their high fructose to glucose ratio. Instead stick with kiwifruit, blueberries, raspberries, citrus fruit and pear.
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