The truth about fruit and sugar

A range of fruits

Sometimes celebrated, other times revered, there is widespread confusion within the general population about whether eating a lot of fruit is healthy or not.   

Fruit contains naturally-occurring sugars – glucose and fructose. So, is eating fruit going to exacerbate our ever-growing obesity crisis? And which are the best fruits for us to eat?

With Sugar Awareness Week around the corner, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explodes some of the fruit myths and looks at what’s good and what’s not.

The good

To be clear, fruit contains some amazing health benefits.  All fruits contain lots of vitamin C, one of our hardest-working vitamins.  Vitamin C is essential for many body functions but is key in the health of the immune system, the skin and formation and repair of muscle.

Additionally, fruits contain a whole range of plant compounds with varying health benefits.  For starters, they’re very high in antioxidants – essential for helping prevent degenerative diseases and supporting the immune system.  Watermelons, for example, contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruits.

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Fruits contain other plant compounds called anthocyanins which are also incredibly powerful antioxidants and supportive of all body systems.  It’s all about the colour and the darker the colours, the more anthocyanins the fruit provides.  Blueberries have championed the super-fruit title, partly because their dark colour makes them very rich in these plant compounds. Blackberries and blackcurrants have the same qualities.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Another wonderful benefit to eating fruit is it contains plenty of essential fibre.  In our heavily processed western diet, fibre is sadly lacking.  We all need around 30 grams of fibre daily (bananas have around 3 grams), in order to keep the bowel working efficiently.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

Some fruits contain some more unusual health benefits.  For example, pineapples contain bromelain which is an effective protein digester so is often used as a digestive enzyme.  Plus, bromelain is a great anti-inflammatory so will help ease painful, inflamed joints.  Apples contain plenty of quercetin, a natural antihistamine, so help fight allergic reactions.

The not so good

There is of course a downside to eating too much fruit and that is its sugar content.  However, this isn’t all bad news.  Fruit contains high levels of a fruit sugar called fructose.  The chemical structure of fructose is more complex that that of simple glucose, and it must be broken down in the liver.  This means you don’t necessarily get a huge sugar ‘hit’ when you eat certain fruits. Cranberries, apricots, raspberries, strawberries and clementines, for example, are all low in sugar overall.

a punnet of strawberries

It all depends on the fruits you eat. They vary in how much fibre they contain (this slows down blood sugar rushes), their balance of fructose and glucose, plus their total fructose levels.

A bowl of prunes or dried plums

Figs, grapes, dates and prunes (dried plums) have some of the highest sugar content.  But this needs to be balanced against their other benefits: prunes, for example, contain some of the highest antioxidant levels per 100 grams of all fruits.

As with everything in life, it’s all about balance.

The not too bad at all!

The body needs a constant supply of energy and eating fruit provides a healthy way of achieving this, due to its high carbohydrate content.  When it comes to blood sugar, it’s a balancing act. Eating carbohydrate with protein will slow down the sugar rush, making energy distribution more sustained.  For example, eating some sliced apple with a few almonds is a perfect afternoon snack when you’re feeling energy levels starting to flag. Additionally, eating fruit with some fat and fibre slows down its absorption; nut butter with sliced banana on wholemeal toast is an incredibly easy and sustaining breakfast option.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

Interestingly, nature also demonstrated this concept well with the avocado.  Categorised as a fruit, avocado is high in both the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fibre.  Avocados are incredibly health-giving. It makes a brilliant breakfast on toast on its own or with egg or smoked salmon. They’ll certainly keep you feeling full all through the morning.

Fruit is certainly not the enemy.  Within a healthy, balanced diet, fruit will provide amazing health benefits without too much damage to the waistline (or teeth!)

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Manage your sweet tooth the healthy way with these sweet treats!

Woman smiling with a bowl of strawberries, holding on strawberry up to her mouth

With the reduction of sugar being hailed as top of the nation’s dietary ‘to do’ list, many people will be left wondering what they CAN eat for a sweet treat!  It’s all about balance and not about a life of total denial!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, whets the appetite with some mouth-watering sweet treats that are not off-the-menu!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Public Health England recommends eating no more than 30 grams (around 8 teaspoons) of sugar daily.  Remember that’s all types of sugar.  The problem is that we can become confused as to what constitutes sugar.  For example, fructose, glucose, maltodextrin, honey, maltose and corn syrup are all sugar.

Here are some ways to reduce total sugar intake without missing out:

STARTING THE DAY RIGHT

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day but unfortunately this is where many people fall down, without realising. Most packet cereal contains sugar; for example, a popular oat-based cereal contains around 4.2 grams of sugar per average serving in the form of glucose and maltodextrin.  So one great tip is to reduce these kinds of foods that contain ‘hidden’ sugars and use your sugar allowance towards a treat you’ll really enjoy!

It’s much better to start your day with some protein, for example eggs.   A wonderfully healthy, sugar-free breakfast would be eggs with avocado and grilled tomato or a mushroom omelette. If cereal is your only option, then look for one that is totally sugar-free; you can always add some sweetness using either xylitol or stevia which are calorie-free and won’t damage teeth.

THE FRUIT DILEMMA

Many people are confused as to whether fruit is good or bad to eat.  Fruit contains the sugar fructose, which is still sugar: it is just digested more slowly than glucose because it’s processed through the liver.

The trick here is to eat fruits that are lower in sugar.  For example, a cup of strawberries contains around eight grams of sugar, whereas a cupful of sliced bananas contains around 18 grams. All berry fruits, apples and peaches contain the lowest amount of sugar, therefore it makes sense to focus on those. Grapes are one of the fruits with the highest amount of sugar.

Whilst we’re on the subject of fruit, cutting out that morning orange juice is going to save around 18 grams of sugar. It’s always better to eat the whole fruit rather than fruit juice as the fibre in the fruit helps to keep your blood sugar levels in better balance.

MAKE YOUR OWN SAUCES

Shop-bought sauces such as those based on tomatoes, often contain sugar.  Therefore, why not make your own using tinned tomatoes and some herbs such as basil for flavouring. Some brands of tinned tomatoes do also contain sugar, so make sure you opt for the sugar-free versions.

Also be wary of any Chinese ready-made sauces such as sweet and sour or plum and hoisin, which contain high amounts of sugar.  Ramp up the flavour in your Chinese stir fries using fresh herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, lemon grass, soya sauce, chillies and spring onions.

THE QUESTION OF CHOCOLATE

Millions of us love our chocolate!  And the good news is that it doesn’t need to be off limits. However, milk chocolate generally contains more sugar (and sometimes cream!)  so ideally try to train your palette to enjoy dark chocolate.

Packed with age-defying antioxidants, dark chocolate has less sugar (it’s always best to choose 70-85% cocoa), plus it’s quite rich to eat, therefore you naturally eat less!  A sweet treat with many health benefits.

DON’T MISS OUT ON DESSERT

For many, a meal doesn’t seem quite complete without a dessert to finish.  Clearly, many desserts are sugar-laden.  However, why not treat yourself to some pancakes which are delicious topped with lemon juice and a granular sweetener, preferably stevia or xylitol. You can always add some blueberries and crème fraiche for something a little more indulgent!

CHANGE YOUR TIPPLE

It’s no secret that alcoholic drinks such as wine, beer and spirits generally have a high sugar content.  For example, a Bailey’s Irish Cream shot contains around 10 grams of sugar and a 175 ml glass of wine might contain anything from half a teaspoon to two teaspoons of sugar, depending on wine variety.

However, with the Festive season fast approaching, think about swapping your alcohol choice to a vodka and soda, with a wedge of lime, or a gin and tonic.  If you opt for slimline tonic, there’ll be virtually no sugar in the drink at all!

So there’s many ways to reduce your daily sugar intake without missing out – and your body will love you more for it!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts