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The truth about fruit and sugar

June 22nd 2015 / Anna Hunter / 2 comments


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In the recent wars against sugar, humble fruit has come under fire. We set a few things straight…

Someone recently suggested to me that if you eat a banana, you may as well wolf down a Mars bar. The plant vs vending machine issue rang skepticism alarm bells in my brain, but is a banana really a sugary snack in another, albeit natural, guise?

Much sugar scaremongering in the press would imply so, but, just like any unadulterated food of the earth, it boasts health benefits far beyond the empty calories found in confectionary and processed junk food. ‘An apple a day’ may seem dated as far as health recommendations go, but there is wisdom in filling up the fruit bowl; let us demystify the dos and don'ts of nature’s fruity bounty.

Feast on fruit

...within reason. There’s no reason to cut fruit out of your diet for fear of a sugar overload, as nutrition expert and trainer Zana Morris explains:

“Fruit is very high in antioxidants, polyphenols and salvestrols- all compounds that boost our immune systems and fantastic protective and anti-cancer effects. Serving wise, I would keep to one to two portions per day.”

As you’ll no doubt be aware, the NHS and Food Standards agency recommend consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, with each portion weighing in at 80g, but experts believe that, as in Australia and to support Zana’s views, a 2+5 campaign may be more beneficial to our health, constituting of two servings of fruit and five portions of vegetables per day.

A UCL study of 65,000 participants published last year found that people who ate seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day had a 42% lower risk of death at any point in time than those who ate less than one portion, and that vegetables had the most beneficial protective effect, with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, and each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a smaller but still significant 4% reduction.

Dr Oyinlola Oyebode, of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, was the lead author of the study, and confirms that while vegetables are undoubtedly longevity boosters, fruit also has profoundly positive effects on our health:

“The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice, but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.”

Do be mindful of the way that you’re getting your fruit fix though…

Don’t guzzle juice

While juice can count as one of your five a day, Zana emphasises it’s best not to source fruit goodness from a glass too often:

“Fruit juices are very high in sugar and have a very different effect on the body than eating a piece of fruit does."

Drinking rather than eating fruit is unlikely to satiate you in the way that sitting down and digesting would for starters, while devouring fruit without any of the fibre or substance means that the natural sugars hit your system much faster, not to mention the fact that you’ll likely be consuming far more portions of fruit than you could physically consume. The high sugar content is also likely to cause dental problems in the long run, as fruit acids and sugars quite literally flood your mouth and hang about. Try combining your fruit with veggies as above, and make your own smoothies and juices if at all possible; there are some delicious ideas in Get The Gloss columnist Rosemary Ferguson’s new book, aptly titled, Juice.

Limit the sugar hit

If you’re trying to stay off the sweet stuff, be aware that the sugar profile of fruit varies widely. Zana gives us some low-sugar ideas:

“How sweet fruit is can of course depend on its ripeness, but as a rule berries such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, green apples, slightly underripe plums and white grapefruits are all considered to be ‘low’ on the sugar load scale.”

Grapefruit is even considered a ‘cleanser’, and can kickstart a sluggish system, as chef and author Tess Ward suggests in her recipe book, The Naked Diet:

“Grapefruit is rich in dietary insoluble fibre pectin, which, by acting as a bulk laxative, helps to protect the colon mucus membrane by decreasing exposure time to toxic substances in the colon. It also facilitates dietary iron absorption from the intestine. Eat whole or use the juice for smoothies, or in freshly squeezed juices.”

Pineapples, mangos and our good friend the banana are higher in sugar, but they’re still full of fibre, nutrients and vitamins, so enjoying them a few times a week is definitely not a bad thing.

Add a dollop of protein

If sweeter fruits are on the menu, adding a dash of protein will help to slow down sugar absorption. Help yourself to dessert, says Zana:

“Some will argue that fruit is a cleanser and as such should be eaten at the beginning of a meal as it digests quicker that way. Considering the issue from a viewpoint of sugar levels in the bloodstream, eating it after a meal is better as the protein and fat in the meal will slow down the sugar hit and therefore help to keep insulin levels stable. Personally, if I have fruit after a meal I will always have it alongside a full fat natural or Greek yogurt and some nuts, or occasionally coconut cream with some Strong Casein.”

Know your dirty dozen from your clean fifteen

We all assume that organic produce is far superior to bog standard, but it’s not necessary to spend a fortune on your fruit shop. Get The Glow author Madeleine Shaw clarifies where to splurge and where to save:

“Buying organic often comes with a heftier price tag. I don’t buy organic all the time, but certain fruit and veg are best bought organic, because more pesticides and chemicals are typically used in their production. I have therefore divided some common fruit and veg into the ‘dirty dozen’ and ‘clean fifteen’:

Dirty dozen - buy these organic:

Apples, pears, strawberries, grapes, peppers, celery, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes, green beans, kale.

Clean Fifteen - no need to buy these organic

Pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, melon, grapefruit, watermelon, sweetcorn, onions, avocado, cabbage, peas, asparagus, aubergine, sweet potatoes, mushrooms.

A helping of fruit can be a healer

Great news for fitness fans - according to Zana a serving of fruit can ward off dreaded muscle soreness, if eaten in the right way:

“I wouldn’t advise lots of fruit around a quick HIIT exercise session, but if you’re working out for longer eat fruit alongside cottage cheese, in a smoothie with Greek yogurt or with a few nuts (as previously). The protein will lower the insulin surge, meaning that sugar is less likely to be laid down as fat, and the combination of sugar and protein actually aids protein absorption, resulting in faster muscle recovery.”

If exercise isn’t the cause of your pain, but rather a hangover, Madeleine has a fruity fix:

“Alcohol is part of our culture nowadays, so if you’re going to have a proper session, it’s good to recover in a healthy way [...] get some electrolytes back into your system with a bottle of coconut water and a banana.”

A lovely bunch of coconuts and a banana sounds FAR better than a paracetamol and a prolonged period in a dark room to me. Get some fruit down you and frolic in the sunshine my friends.

What do you think of the 5+2 fruit and veg idea? Do you get your five day? Comment below or tweet me @AnnaMaryHunter


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  • shahnaz cola-wrensch
  • June 30th 2015

Love this post really has helped me out. I always struggle with what I can snack on to still remain healthy.

  • Anna Knowles
  • June 23rd 2015

Well said! I have been steadily losing weight for several months now - only a pound or so a week - while eating masses of vegetables and a good deal of fruit. I refuse to call it a diet with all the connotations of starvation and misery; it's a plan for life. I take the odd day off and have a bit of chocolate or a piece of cake, totally without guilt. I think this actually helps avoid the starvation mode that stalls weight loss.

I think it's mad to keep stigmatising individual or groups of food Obviously stuffing your face on burgers and chips is not a good idea. But the odd burger, or the odd chip, will not kill you/make you fat. It's diets as a whole that are healthy/unhealthy, not individual foods. That said, veggies are most definitely a good thing.

Every day I make a huge vat of vegetables - leeks, onions, broccoli, green beans, mangetout etc. etc. I melt a teaspoon - yes a teaspoon - of butter in a wide sauteuse, tip in the chopped vegetables, a sprinkling of seasalt and herbs, stir vigorously, clamp the lid on and simmer everything for about 15 mins on a very low heat, stirring occasionally. No water, which minimises vitamin loss. They emerge deliciously buttery tasting and are lovely cold for nibbling as well as hot with a meal.

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