As sugar sizzles under the media spotlight, you may be rethinking the role of fruit in your diet. A humble banana can have around six teaspoons of sugar, so is fruit a friend or foe? Here’s what our nutritionists know.
If you read health blogs and social media sites, you’ll know that some people consider sugar a dietary demon. A wave of anti-sugar sentiment is now pushing us to drastically slash — or even quit — the sweet stuff.
Limiting the contents of your biscuit tin is a no-brainer if you’re looking to cut your sugar intake, but what about the fruit bowl?
One banana could have the same amount of sugar as a 50g bar of milk chocolate.
So should you eat less fruit, or just drop it from your diet altogether? With sugar now under such scrutiny, you’re probably asking these kinds of questions and more, and the answers may surprise you.
The sweet truth is…
We all know there is a lot of added sugar in our food supply: cakes and other sweet treats are an obvious example; sweetened sauces or baked beans are less obvious. Sugar-sweetened drinks are being singled out as a key problem, as they are so easy to over-consume.
Few long-term studies suggest sugar itself heightens the risk of obesity and disease. What we do know is that these risks rise with the amount of sugar you eat, because consuming too much can play havoc with your health.
So, if you eat a varied and healthy diet, there’s no reason to ban sugar. This is where fruit starts to shine. A piece of fruit is low in kilojoules yet high in vitamins, minerals and fibre, all of which help guard against stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure, and may also lower the risk of certain cancers.
Plus, delicious fruit delivers a raft of nutrients that keeps us looking and feeling good.
The trouble with juice
The relationship between sugar and fruit gets a little more complex when fruit becomes juice. Fruit juice doesn’t contain the healthy fibre you get from the whole fruit, so it not only fails to make you feel full in the way a piece of fruit can, but also makes it very easy to drink too many kilojoules.
Studies link a high intake of fruit juice with increased risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes, giving us even more reasons to eat, rather than drink, our fruit.
Take care with dried fruit
While dried fruits contain lots of nutrients, the removal of the water concentrates sugar in the fruit, making it a very high-sugar snack which sticks more easily to teeth and increases the risk of cavities. We’re more likely to eat six dried apricot halves than three large whole apricots. The Ministry of Health recommends limiting the amount of dried fruit we eat.
Cutting fruit from your diet in an attempt to limit your sugar intake is extreme and unnecessary. Studies show that fruit-rich diets do not cause weight gain and may even promote weight loss.
These days, only slightly more than half of New Zealanders are eating the two daily serves of fruit that the national guidelines recommend (and far fewer are eating enough veges), so many of us will benefit from eating more fresh fruit, not less.
Remember that on balance, fruit is most definitely your friend, and a far better choice than biscuits or chocolate when you want to satisfy a sweet craving.
Fruit is an important part of a healthy eating plan; just be mindful of portion sizes. Stick to two pieces a day and you’ll have plenty of room in your diet for other healthy foods, such as vegetables, dairy products, lean meats and wholegrains.
Fruit under attack
Fructose is a natural fruit sugar that’s also present in table sugar.
Some anti-sugar lobbyists name fructose as the type of sugar and root cause of the obesity epidemic — and some even go as far as calling it toxic. They point to research that they claim proves how fructose leads to weight gain and metabolic disturbances.
However, they often neglect to mention that these controversial studies are conducted on rats that were fed six times the amount of fructose we eat in a day. During studies of humans who followed a high-fructose diet, researchers observed that fructose is not the culprit behind weight gain, and that the real danger lies in consuming extra kilojoules, wherever they come from.
Do you know your serves?
Although fruit is low in kilojoules, its sweetness makes it easy to eat more than what we need. Watch out for tubs of store-bought fruit salad, in particular. These can carry a hefty kilojoule load, causing you to unwittingly gain weight when you think you’ve made a health-boosting choice.
- 1 small kiwifruit = 1 serve
- 1 small orange = 1 serve
- 1 tub diced fruit in juice = 1 serve
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sultanas = 1 serve
- 8 dried apricot halves = 2 serves
- small takeaway fruit salad (300g) = 2+ serves
- large takeaway fruit salad = 4+ serves