Fruit: The Facts & Fibs

I’ve been wanting to write a fruity blog for a while, thinking it might be a more popular one. Everyone loves fruit! What’s not to like? It’s universally celebrated as nature’s convenient little snack, just pop an apple in your bag and off you go.

And it’s so photogenic too…food blogs and Instagram are full of strawberry and kiwi platters. Even my own website is a big tableau of colourful fruit…look how pretty it is! Because who wants to be greeted with an intro photo of a plate of chicken and some nuts?

So the message seems to be loud and clear – fruit is good and we should eat more of it. But does fruit really deserve its place at the foundation of an optimal diet? Let’s take a balanced view…

FABULOUS FRUIT

The many benefits of fruit-eating are well known, including high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water content and fibre. Fruit is also low in calories and fat, making it a natural choice as part of a traditional calorie-restricted programme for weight management.

The NHS recommends eating at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day – and especially in terms of fruit, this has never easier. Don’t want to eat an actual piece of fruit? Well there are plenty of other options to consider including juices, smoothies, fruit-based snack bars and dried fruit products.

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FRUCTOSE FICTION

But nothing is perfect, including fruit. It’s sugary. That’s what makes it tastes so good and why we want to eat more of it than vegetables (I’m assuming that 99% of us would choose a banana over a beetroot).

The sugar in fruit is called fructose. But isn’t fructose the healthy type of sugar? This is perhaps a common misconception but no, sorry. It definitely sounds healthy-ish, but as an isolated compound, its effect is similar to all the other types of sugar such as glucose, sucrose, honey, agave syrup, date syrup, molasses etc.

An added benefit of eating whole fruit, however, is that the fibre content slows down the speed at which the sugar content hits our blood stream, making it a more stable release of energy.

Short Science Section: all sources of sugar cause our pancreas to release insulin, which transports sugar from our blood and into our cells, where it can be used for energy. Any sugar that is not utilised is then converted by our liver into fat.

Studies have shown that the liver converts fructose to fat much more effectively than any other type of sugar, which is one of the main reasons why fizzy drinks (often containing a concentrated fructose in the form of high fructose corn syrup) are being targeted as contributing towards rising obesity rates.

SO CAN FRUIT MAKE US FAT??

Oops. This sounds a bit like a sensationalist Daily Mail headline. But don’t worry, the sensible answer is no…it’s highly unlikely within the context of a few pieces of fresh whole fruit here and there. Fruit is mostly made up of water, anyway!

But the same cannot be said for certain juices, smoothies and dried fruit snack bars and products, which now make it possible for us to consume larges amount of fruit (and therefore fructose) in one go.

Who hasn’t made the mistake of eating a whole packet of dried apricots? It’s too easy.

And confusing marketing tactics have a lot to answer for in this respect. Many of us are consuming more fruit juices, health bars and smoothies under the pretext that more is better – they are 100% natural, count towards our 5-a-day with no added sugar after all…

As a quick comparison, a 300ml bottle of Tropicana is the equivalent of eating around five oranges and contains 30g fructose, whereas a 330ml can of Coca-Cola contains 35g fructose. The orange juice is clearly healthier because it is a natural product and contains the buffering qualities of fibre – but the bottom line is that ultimately the sugar content is processed in the same way (see Short Science Section, above).

Unfortunately even the health product of the moment, the much loved ‘green juice’ can contain as much as 32g fructose – this is because the apple or pineapple juice content is what makes it taste delicious and not (unsurprisingly) the little handful of kale leaves thrown in at the end.

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FINAL FRUIT-BASED FOOD FOR THOUGHT

In summary, fruit is healthy in spite of its sugar content and not because of it. Fruit provides us with a vitamin and antioxidant boost on one hand, and a sugar boost on the other. Health implications can arise when the negative effects of regular high sugar consumption start to override any positive benefit achieved from the nutrient content.

So the humble fruit, like most things in life, is to be enjoyed in moderation and not to excess. Hopefully this article has provided a bit of clarity on some surprising factors that could be hindering your own health goals.

Here are a few tips to enjoy fruit in the most beneficial way:

  • Focus on vegetables for your daily boost of vitamins and minerals instead – view fruit more as a treat to be savoured rather than something to be eaten (or liquidised) in large volumes
  • Prioritise whole fruits over fruit-based drinks and snacks – these include ‘health’ products sweetened with high amounts of dates, agave syrup or honey (sugar, sugar + sugar)
  • If you love your juices or smoothies, make your own! You can control the ingredients and sugar content
  • Buy frozen fruits and berries – this way you can use them as and when required over a longer period of time
  • Avoid eating fruit after meals as it can cause fermentation and aggravate bloating symptoms
  • Fruits with the highest fructose content include pineapple, pomegranate, mango and grapes
  • Fruits with the lowest fructose content include olives, avocadoes, lemons, limes, rhubarb and berries

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Always seek professional advice before making any dietary changes. Bee Nutrition provides bespoke plans based on individual medical and lifestyle factors to help obtain optimal results.

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments on the subject and enjoy the weekend ahead!

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