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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Look after your heart: top nutrition and lifestyle tips

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

On average your heart beats around 70 times every minute of every day.  It’s an incredible organ, one which many of us take for granted, which is one of the reasons heart disease is so common in the UK.

The four main risk factors of heart disease are tobacco use, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excess alcohol.  Fortunately, if the heart is properly fed, loved and exercised, it will hopefully keep on beating and last you a lifetime.

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for a healthy heart.

Increase your fish intake

Foods containing saturated fats needs to be reduced or eliminated; think red meat, butter, cheese, cakes and pastries.  Additionally, too many meals containing fried foods should be avoided.  However, in their place should feature oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon and these ideally need to be included at least two to three times per week.

A range of foods containig omega 3 fats

Oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids which help to thin the blood and reduce blood pressure. If you’re vegetarian or don’t like fish then take a supplement containing flaxseeds, which are also high in omega 3’s.

Grab some polyphenols

Polyphenols are compounds naturally found in plant foods that have amazing health benefits, especially for the heart. There are a whole range of foods containing various types of polyphenols. Load up on colourful fruits and vegetables, green and black tea, dark chocolate and red wine (in moderation!).

A cup of green tea

One of the biggest issues for the arteries is that fatty deposits can develop on them, and these deposits become hardened – hence the common disease, arteriosclerosis.  However, much of this damage can be avoided or reduced by including antioxidants found in polyphenols in the diet.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

This reflects the recommendation to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.  They’re also high in vitamin C, one of the most powerful antioxidants which can help prevent artery damage.  Fruits and vegetables are also rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium which help to relax the artery wall, therefore reducing blood pressure and other heart-related risk factors.  Try to eat a rainbow diet, meaning as much colour variety on your plate as possible.

Spice it up

Including garlic in your diet often (and as much as your friends and family can bear!) is a great idea.  It’s also possible to take a supplement containing garlic which is standardised for alliin, the main form of allicin, which is the active compound in garlic. It has shown remarkable blood-thinning properties as well as the ability to reduce blood pressure.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic is also super-easy to include in so many dishes; think stir fries, soups, vegetable sides, curries and one-pot recipes.

Turmeric is another heart-loving spice that works in a variety of ways to keep it healthy.  Turmeric helps reduce high blood pressure because it relieves pressure on the artery walls but also prevents dangerous plaque build-up on the arteries which causes blood clots and strokes.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

It can be used in so many different dishes, both savoury and sweet.  Great choices are in a marinade with Indian lamb chops or in pancake served with fresh fruit and natural yoghurt. Try turmeric in a curried chicken dish or sprinkled over butternut squash and roasted in the oven.  There are endless possibilities!

Scrap the sugar

Sugar can often be disguised in dishes as dextrose or corn syrup, but all sugar is treated by the body in the same way. Many sugary foods, such as biscuits, cakes, cereal bars and margarines, also contain trans fats. These are chemically altered fats which are a cheap form of fat used for taste and ‘spreadability’, in the case of margarines.  Unfortunately, the body cannot process these ‘alien’ substances and they also stop the metabolism of healthy omega-3 fats needed for blood thinning and maintaining a healthy heart.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

The key message is to ditch the junk and try to eat as cleanly as possible.  The less sugar you eat, the less cravings you’ll have.

Move more

It’s an unequivocal fact that exercise helps prevent heart disease.  After all, the heart is a muscle just like any other in the body and needs to be exercised.  Ideally, you need to raise the heart rate for at least 30 minutes five times per week, and that’s perfectly achievable through brisk walking.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

It’s a question of making time. Exercise needs to be prioritised and put into the diary just like any appointment – it that’s important to your future health.

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Top tips for banishing the winter bugs this season

As winter gets into full swing, so too can winter bugs. Many of us have already suffered from colds this season and the trend will inevitably continue over the coming months.  However, catching a cold doesn’t have to be a given every winter: there are many ways of reducing your chances of catching a cold.

The good news is that Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tell us just how we can do this with her five top tips!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

HAVE MORE VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is probably best-known as a cold remedy.  However, it can also prevent a cold happening in the first place. Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, wrote a revolutionary book called Vitamin C and the common cold which looked at using large doses of vitamin C.  Whilst the clinical evidence is still fairly mixed, we do know that vitamin C increases white blood cell production, which strengthens immunity, and therefore many people have found that taking good levels of vitamin C throughout the winter has kept them sniffle-free.

Vitamin C is very easily destroyed by cooking, storage and food preparation.  So, whilst it’s essential to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables containing vitamin C, such as strawberries, peppers, broccoli, mango, guavas, kiwi and oranges (all fruits and vegetables will contain some vitamin C), it’s just as important to take a daily supplement. Taking an additional 1000 mg of vitamin C daily can really help.

EAT SHITAKE MUSHROOMS

There’s a wealth of mushrooms now available in the supermarkets.  However, shitake mushrooms stand out as having some really beneficial effects on the immune system. They seem to improve gut immunity which is obviously beneficial to the whole body, but they also contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins D and B6, which both help to boost the immune system.

Not sure how to eat shitake mushrooms?  Prepare them by simply washing and slicing and then use them in a Singapore Noodle recipe. They work really well with chillies, turmeric, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce and garlic with some chicken and noodles. Delicious!

TAKE SOME ECHINACEA

Perhaps the most widely used Western herb for enhancement of the immune system, and therefore a great defence against colds, is Echinacea.  It even strengthens the immune system in healthy people so it’s certainly worth using as a preventative measure.  Indeed, there have been many scientific investigations on the immune-enhancing effects of Echinacea.

Look for registered Traditional Herbal Remedies (THR’s) containing Echinacea purpurea root for best effects.

LIMIT SUGAR

Of all dietary changes that could be most beneficial in keeping you cold-free this winter, it’s ditching the sugar. Sugar in all its forms (glucose, sucrose, fructose, to name a few) can significantly reduce the ability of white blood cells to destroy viral invaders to the body. In fact the negative effects of having a sugar overload can start within 30 minutes and typically last for over five hours.  This can mean a 50% reduction in the ability of our white blood cells to deal with foreign invaders.

After a sugar-hit such as sweets, pastries, alcohol and fizzy drinks, blood sugar levels will rise.  This will cause elevated insulin levels, and vitamin C and insulin appear to have opposing effects on white blood cell production.  Even fruit juice can be a problem because it has a direct effect on blood sugar levels.

Try to make a conscious effort to really look at your sugar intake and reduce it as much as possible over the coming months.

BE HAPPY!

The mind has a profound effect on health and disease; our mood and attitude have a tremendous bearing on immunity.  When we’re happy and optimistic, our immune system functions much better.  Conversely, when we’re depressed, our immune system tends to be depressed.  If you want to have a healthy immune system, you need to laugh often, view life with a positive outlook and relax on a regular basis.

Easier said than done?

Positive thinking actually takes practice, particularly if you’re prone to being a ‘glass half-empty’ type of person.  However, take each day as it comes and actively try to banish negative thoughts.  It’s also a great idea to think of at least one thing every morning that you’re grateful for.  It could be something as simple as drinking a wonderful cup of coffee.  After a while, your mind set will switch to being more positive.  And the more positive you are, the stronger your immune system will become.

So with these top tips hopefully you can stay happy and healthy all winter long!

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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!

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