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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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