(aka, Natural Sugar vs. Refined Sugar)
Can you believe summer is almost here?! Today is my son’s last day of Kindergarten (cue the tears), which means lots of swimming, playing and yes, fruit-eating! Both my kids and I agree that the abundance of fruit during the warm summer months is truly one of the best parts! This may be because I ate a good pound or two of watermelon a day when I was pregnant with them, but that story is for another time… From berries and mangos to peaches and all the melons, there really is no better time of year to enjoy nature’s most bountiful produce!
But is all that fruit really a good thing? I mean nutrition-wise… With the keto diet gaining more and more popularity over the past several years, it seems like the true sufferer are all those fruits [and all of their sugar]! But does it have to be this way?! Can we have our fruits and enjoy their sugars too – without ruining our “diets”, of course?!
The Difference between Fruit Sugar and Processed Sugar: a simpler approach
You may be surprised to learn that fruit and processed sugars can contain many various types of sugar [molecules], although it all gets broken down into glucose, [the molecule your body uses for fuel]. Both can also raise your blood sugar. Fruits can also contain even more sugar grams than a candy bar! No wonder people get confused on whether or not they should be eating them!
And while I do agree that the way our bodies break these foods downplays a role in whether or not they should be considered “healthy”, I’m going to bring it one step back here today and take a different, more simple approach.
Fruit (along with honey, stevia and maple syrup) contain a mixture of sugars in the form of fructose, sucrose, and glucose. It’s simple, we know what they contain.
Refined sugars, on the other hand, come in dozens of forms, all of which quickly add up when eating processed foods (see my article about the different types of sugars, HERE). Even foods you may not consider sweet, like salsa and pasta sauce, often contain significant amounts of refined sugar, all of which quickly add up throughout the day. Now add in sugary drinks, cookies, and other sweets, and the amount of sugars you can eat in a day is off the charts! Furthermore, these foods are often lacking in any real nutrients or sustenance, and is why you can consume so much of them without even noticing what you’ve done! This is [actually] the primary problem with added sugars, not how our bodies break them down.
Why Fruit is Different:
All those Nutrients:
When you eat a piece of fruit, you’re getting an abundant supply of nutrients, including antioxidants, minerals, and other vitamins. Working synergistically to help digest the food, convert it to fuel and make it useable for our bodies, these nutrients are also known to lower inflammation and even help fight disease.
On the flip-side, when sugar is refined, as it is in a candy bar, it is stripped of many (if not all) of these nutrients. The same thing can be said for refined grains [which is another reason to stay away]! In fact, the only way to get these nutrients back into your foods is often through “fortified” products, which means they are added back in! However, many of the vitamins that are taken away actually help your body break down the foods (ie, they distribute carbohydrates into smaller portions, converting them to glucose for the body to use as fuel). This is one of the reasons refined products are so hard for your body to utilize and again, should be avoided when possible!
The amount of fiber you find in fruits is another reason why they are so much better than refined foods! Fiber helps slow the rate at which your body absorbs sugar. This means that your body has more time to use up the glucose and fructose as fuel, before being stored as fat. Fiber also helps the body feel full, so you won’t keep reaching for more sugary foods. Protein and fat also help slow down this process and is why nutritionist often recommends adding a handful of almonds or spoonful of nut butter when eating fruit.
Less Sugar Dense:
Another thing to note when comparing fruit sugar to that in processed foods is the actual volume of sugar relative to the item. Consuming too much sugar from fruit is really hard to do since it has less sugar by volume than processed foods. This means that you would have to eat very large amounts of fresh produce to reach harmful levels of fructose. This is also why it is not recommended to eat a lot of dried fruits since the water has been sucked out of them, making the sugar per volume at a much greater level.
Finally, I’m going to add in a bit of science here (I am a nutritionist, after all!) and talk about your pH. Refined sugars and carbs are generally more acidic, leading to a higher bodily pH. Likewise, since they often don’t have many vitamins or minerals in them, the body has to control pH with alkaline minerals from elsewhere - namely, your bones! This is why drinking lots of soda can be sooo bad for your body (although more on that topic another time). Iodine is another mineral that may be taken to replenish your pH. This, in turn, can affect your thyroid, which controls metabolism – and we definitely don’t want to mess with that (especially as we get older)!
Added Sugar vs. Grams of Sugar:
I also want to quickly distinguish between added sugar and grams of sugar. Our traditional
nutritional labels only show the grams of sugar (although this is changing). This is a lump sum of any added/refined sugars, as well as the sugars found naturally in the food. In the case of fruit, there is no added/refined sugar. However, look at a candy bar and it’s almost ALL added/refined sugar.
Thankfully, there is a change in the works for nutrition labels to require separate line items for the amount of added sugar, which will help consumers decipher how “natural” the product really is. This was supposed to go into effect by July of 2018, but the deadline has been extended to 2021. Until then, if it has a label, it may be best just to stay away!
So, to sum it all up: is eating tons of fruit really a bad thing?! No! Not at all! I still suggest doing it in moderation and balancing it with other high protein and healthy-fat filled foods though! But go ahead, enjoy the summer fruits in all their beautiful, juicy glory! It’s definitely better than eating a tub full of ice cream – unless it’s Banana Nice Cream… man that stuff is good!
Oh, and check out my Mango Coconut Tartlets if you’re craving fruit but want to get some of those healthy fats and protein in too!
Still craving sugar? Here are more healthy alternatives to Eat Less Sugar and still enjoy your treats!