Fruit comes in all sizes and colors – from ruby red apples to brightly colored oranges. Each is a good source of vitamin C and contains a wealth of other vitamins and minerals. Plus, each colorful piece of fruit has its own unique set of phytonutrients.
There are lots of ways you can enjoy the nutritional benefits that fruit offers. One way is to eat a piece of whole fruit in its natural state. That’s certainly the easiest. Simply wash it thoroughly and take a bite. Yet, recently, it’s become popular to make a morning glass of homemade fruit juice or blend fruit and yogurt to create a thick, creamy smoothie. Also popular are smoothie bowls, thicker, richer types of smoothies you eat with a spoon. You might have a preference with regard to taste, but what about differences in nutritional and health benefits? Is one better or worse for your health than the other?
First, let’s distinguish between fresh juice and packaged juice you buy at the supermarket. Homemade fruit juice you prepare at home is a cut or two above the fruit juice you buy at the grocery store. That’s because some packaged fruit juice contains added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Some also contain added flavorings. For example, fruit juice in cartons labeled as “not from concentrate” is typically made up to a year ahead of time and stored in big vats from which the oxygen is removed. Before it’s packaged for the supermarket, manufacturers add a flavoring packet to restore the flavor that was lost during storage. So, the idea that packaged orange juice is comparable to fresh squeezed, despite what the advertising says, is not accurate. When’s the last time you had to add a flavoring packet to a fresh-squeezed glass of orange juice to make it taste right?
Another problem with juice, even juice that you make with a juicer at home, is the juicing process removes pulp and most of the fiber, particularly insoluble fiber. It’s fiber that reduces the spike in blood sugar you get when you eat sugar, even natural sugar from fruit. Without the fiber, you gulp down a rather large dose of natural sugar and there’s no fiber to moderate the blood sugar rise. Such a rapid rise in blood sugar isn’t healthy, especially if you have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Drinking fruit juice is also less satiating than eating a whole piece of fruit. In one study, adults consumed one of three forms of fruit prior to a meal, either apple juice, applesauce, an apple, or nothing and were questioned about their level of hunger. The whole apple led to more sustained feelings of fullness, followed by the applesauce. The group that ate the whole apple also consumed fewer calories at a subsequent meal. So, fruit juice lacks the satiety of whole fruit and causes a more rapid and sustained rise in blood sugar.
Fruit juice, surely, must be a healthy alternative to soft drinks? Surprisingly, some experts believe it’s not that much better due to the rapid rise in blood sugar you get when you drink it. Yet, freshly made juice does have phytonutrients with antioxidant activity that soft drinks don’t have.
Smoothies are another tasty way to tap into the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that fruit offers. If you compare smoothies and juice made exclusively from fruit, smoothies are a better choice, as long as they don’t contain added extra sugar. That’s because you’re tossing whole fruit into the blender. The blender pulverizes the fruit along and the fiber but you still retain the fiber. That’s important since the fiber slows the absorption of the natural sugars in the fruit. So, smoothies are more blood sugar friendly.
One problem with smoothies is you can gulp down a few pieces of fruit quickly when they’re pureed in a blender and turned into a drink. Contrast that to the time it would take to eat the three or four pieces of fruit, the amount that goes into a single smoothie. On the other hand, with juice and smoothies, you consume more fruit than you would eating whole fruit individually – so you’re getting more phytonutrients. It’s a balancing act. You’re consuming more phytonutrients and vitamins, but you’re also getting more calories and a sharper rise in blood sugar.
Watch out for commercial smoothies. The healthiest smoothies are the ones you make at home in a blender, assuming you make them without added sugar. Pre-packaged smoothies are often high in sugar.
Whole fruit is fruit in its whole, natural state. As such, its fiber is completely intact. This is the form that’s gentlest to your blood sugar. And the one most satiating to your appetite. Not surprising! When you eat a whole piece of fruit, like an apple, you work harder to chew and swallow the pulp and skin. It takes longer to eat an apple than it does to drink a smoothie or guzzle a glass of fruit juice. That means your brain gets the signal that you’re full before you’ve consumed a lot of calories. For satiety and for your metabolic health, a whole piece of fruit is the healthiest choice. One possible benefit a smoothie may offer over a whole piece of fruit is the force of the blender rips the cell walls of the plants apart. This releases the phytonutrients so that they’re more available to your body. Still, chewing fruit essentially does the same thing.
The Bottom Line
The best way to get the benefits of fruit in a way that won’t have a negative impact on your blood sugar is in whole fruit form with the skin still on. The worst way is to drink fruit juice from the grocery store. If you enjoy fruit juice or fruit smoothies, reduce the impact on your blood sugar as well as the calorie content by using one-quarter fruit to three-quarters non-starchy leafy greens. You might think a smoothie or juice with that much green content would taste grassy. That’s typically not the case since even a small amount of fruit adds a touch of sweetness and masks the taste of the greens. Enjoy an occasional homemade smoothie but don’t let it take the place of whole fruit in its unaltered state.
Appetite. 2009 Apr;52(2):416-22. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2008.12.001. Epub 2008 Dec 6.
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