Sugar is a hot topic in nutrition right now. So many people are either off added sugar or off refined sugar, and I can’t even tell you how many recipes I’ve read that exclaim to be sugar free and then call for honey or maple syrup. That right there tells me how confusing this subject is for most of us.
The trouble is, there are as many opinions as there are experts, and this is a big topic. Far too big for just one post, so I thought I’d start with a question I get fairly frequently – what about fruit?
Let’s break it down.
Fruit contains carbohydrate, mainly in the form of the naturally occurring sugar, fructose. Vegetables also contain carbohydrate, but typically much less than fruits, and they therefore contain fewer calories.
The idea that fruit is loaded with sugar needs to be put into perspective. Yes, there is sugar in fruit, but it’s not like it’s a sack of empty calories.
That naturally occurring fructose is coupled with fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds that help guard against disease. The soluble fiber in fruit helps lower cholesterol; the insoluble fiber helps moderate the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, stabilize blood sugar, and keep you satiated.
Not all sugar is created equal, my friends. One medium banana has 27 grams of carbohydrate and 105 calories. Compare that to a 100-calorie pack of Oreos or one of those teeny 100-calorie tins of Cola, and tell me the banana isn’t the better choice.
Current recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption in the US is for 2 cups of fruit a day and 2.5 cups of vegetables. In Canada the recommendation is 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables (a serving is half a cup) with no guidance on how much of that should be fruit. In the UK the recommendation is 5 x 80g portions of fruit and veg a day, though new research points to bumping that number up to 7 a day.
So when we’re looking at a serving (1/2 cup) of fruit, how much sugar are we talking about? Well, a 100g banana has 14g of sugar (about a tablespoon). An average orange has about 12 grams, and a cup of strawberries has only about 7 grams of sugar (less than two teaspoons). Plus, you’re getting fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and a range of minerals along with that sugar. 105 calories from the banana, 47 from the orange, and 49 from the cup of strawberries together adds up to only about 10% of your recommended daily calorie intake.
The reality is, the majority of the population struggles with meeting the recommended daily intakes of fruit and veg. About 50% of Canadians and 70% of Americans don’t meet the daily minimum. That in mind, most of us don’t need to worry about whether we’re eating too much fruit, but whether we’re eating enough.
Of course there are some health concerns related to fruit. If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic you’ll need to limit your fruit intake to manage your blood sugar levels. If you have high blood triglycerides, extra sugar from any source can exacerbate the problem. Some people who have hereditary fructose intolerance can’t properly digest fruit.
Choosing foods that are low on the glycemic index can help with managing blood sugar problems. Although fruit contains sugar, most fruits are surprisingly low on the GI. Fruits low on the GI (release their sugars slowly) include berries, cherries, apples, pears, apricots, peaches, and figs.
For the general population, however, my advice is to eat your fruit! If you’re aiming for 10 servings (5 cups) of fruit and veg each day, I suggest you have 3-4 servings of fruit and the rest vegetables. Even better, eat your fruits together with vegetables – the extra fiber will help to moderate the absorption of sugar into your blood stream even more than the fiber from fruit alone can.
The bottom line is that whole fruit (we’re not talking about juice!) is a nourishing food and for most of us there is no reason to avoid it.
Got a nutrition question? Email me!
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2014