Sugar In Fruit – For years, fruit has had a “health halo.” You may have even heard the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Yet, you may have also read that eating fruit is bad for you because it’s high in sugar. You hear this mostly from people who follow a low-carb diet. Still, it might raise questions in your own mind about whether fruit is blood-sugar friendly. Let’s look at the sugar in fruit more closely.
The sugar in fruit is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Table sugar, too, is made up of roughly equal quantities of glucose and fructose, although table sugar, unlike fruit, has no nutritional value. The percentage of fructose in fruit ranges from 40 to 55% with the rest being glucose. Some fruits are higher in fructose than others. For example, apples are about 65% fructose. Other fruits high in fructose include bananas, grapes, watermelon, mango, dates, and figs.
You’ve probably heard about health issues associated with high fructose corn syrup and wonder whether the fructose in fruit is problematic as well. High fructose corn syrup is around 55% fructose and 42% glucose, so it’s slightly, but not markedly higher in fructose than table sugar. However, there is a more fructose-rich form of high-fructose corn syrup called HFCS-90 that’s 90% fructose and 10% glucose. It’s used in much smaller quantities, primarily in combination with regular high-fructose corn syrup by the beverage industry.
Some of the concerns about fructose include:
· A possible link with non-alcoholic fatty liver
· May raise blood triglycerides
· A possible link with high blood pressure
· Is associated with obesity
· Is linked with an elevated uric acid level and gout
As pointed out, the sugar content of some fruit is 50% or more fructose. Does that mean you should avoid eating fruit due to its sugar content? Not necessarily. Even with high-fructose corn syrup, there’s no definitive evidence that it causes health problems that are unique to it alone. After all, eating too much table sugar, over time, can cause the above health problems as well. There’s no clear evidence that high-fructose corn syrup is worse than table sugar – they’re both bad.
Fruit contains a similar ratio of fructose to glucose as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, yet you wouldn’t expect it to have the same impact as high-fructose corn syrup in a bottle of cola. That’s because the fructose and glucose in a whole piece of fruit is only a small part of what fruit contains. When you bite into an apple, you get a mouthful of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber that changes how your body processes sugar. The phytonutrients in fruit also have antioxidant activity and that, too, provides health benefits that you don’t get from drinking a soda sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Plus, fruit is one of the best sources of vitamin C. Although vegetables have respectable quantities of vitamin C, you destroy some of it during the cooking process.
So, is fruit bad for your blood sugar? If fruit causes a sharp rise in blood sugar like refined carbs and sugary foods, you’d expect the incidence of type 2 diabetes to be higher in people who eat a lot of fruit. However, research suggests that higher fruit consumption is linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. In a study of over 66,000 healthy women in the Nurses’ Health Study, those that consumed larger quantities of whole fruits were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the course of the study.
Research suggests that fruit may have other health benefits that make it a worthwhile addition to the breakfast, lunch of dinner table. For example, a 7.5-year study of 500,000 residents of China showed those who ate fruit most days had a lower risk of heart attack and stroke relative to those who ate little or no fruit.
Sugar In Fruit: Whole Fruit vs. Fruit Juice vs. Smoothies
Whole fruit contains fiber to slow digestion and absorption of glucose from the digestive tract but fruit juice is devoid of fiber. So, you would expect fruit juice, even if it contains no added sugar, to raise blood sugar more quickly than a whole apple or a bowl of berries. While there is some evidence that this is the case, a meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled studied published in PLOS One, failed to show that drinking fruit juice significantly impacted blood glucose and insulin levels adversely.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should stock up on fruit juice. When you eat a piece of whole fruit, you get the benefits of fiber, a dietary component that most people don’t get enough of. Plus, it takes several pieces of whole fruit to make a glass of fruit juice, so the calorie content is greater and the satiety factor less. Liquid calories don’t have the same appetite suppressive effects as a piece of whole fruit.
What about smoothies? Smoothies are a better option than fruit juice since you retain the fiber. Plus, smoothies are more filling than fruit juice – but a piece of fresh fruit still wins out! If you like to drink your fruit, use a high ratio of non-starchy veggies to fruit when you make a smoothie.
The Bottom Line
Yes, fruit is higher in sugar than most vegetables but it’s still rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy phytochemicals with antioxidant activity. Your best bet is to eat whole, unprocessed fruit. Think apples rather than applesauce or apple juice. If you’re trying to avoid all sugar, even natural sugar, berries have the lowest sugar content. Raspberries and strawberries are excellent choices while blueberries are higher in natural sugar. Fruits with the greatest natural sugar content include grapes, bananas, figs, dates, and watermelon. However, even these fruits have health benefits and most people, even diabetics can enjoy them in moderation. So, don’t fear the sugar in fruit. Make fruit a part of a balanced diet that’s rich in an abundance of whole foods.
Am J Clin Nutr December 2008. Vol. 88 no. 6 1716S-1721S.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Jun; 37(6): 771–773. Published online 2012 Sep 18. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.157.
Berkeley Wellness. “Don’t Be Afraid of Fruit”
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Vegetables and Fruits”
Science Daily. “Fresh fruit associated with lower risk of heart attack and stroke”
PLoS One. “Effect of Fruit Juice on Glucose Control and Insulin Sensitivity in Adults: A Meta-Analysis of 12 Randomized Controlled Trials”
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