By now, most of us have been hearing warnings about sugar for a long time. After all, sugar is said to wreak havoc on our bodies, including such repercussions as obesity, higher cholesterol, poor protein absorption, and weakened eyesight. Add to that the research that indicates sugar feeds cancer and may be a factor in osteoporosis, and you would think more people would be turning away from the sweet substance. Many on the no sugar bandwagon have lumped fruit into the banned list, because it is, naturally a source of sugar. But is this a fair assessment? Should we really shun fruits as much as we should our favorite carbonated beverage or that sinfully delicious mocha Frappuccino?
Considering the Glycemic Index
When one compares basic calorie content of fruits to other sugary items, or even compares the amounts of fructose (the main sugar in fruits) to sugar foods, you may conclude that fruits are just as bad as other sugars. However, it is important to consider the glycemic index. According to the American Diabetes Association, the glycemic index is a figure that shows the effects foods have on the body’s glucose levels. Lower GI numbers raise the glucose levels more slowly and to a lesser degree than high GI numbers (2). Eating straight sugar will result in a quick, dramatic rise in body blood sugar levels, but eating an apple with the equivalent amount of sugars will not have the same effect. Why? Researchers say it is because of other factors contained in apples and other fruits.
Eating the Whole Package
According to Dr. David Ludwig, a professor at Harvard University, fiber contained in fruit is the major player that makes fruit healthier than other sugars. As the body digests an apple, for example, the fiber must first be broken down by enzymes in order for the body to gain access to the sugar. The digestive enzymes necessary for breaking down that fiber are located further along in the digestive tract, enabling the sugar to bypass some of the first, quick absorption processes. The result of this slower access to the sugar is a slower release of the sugar into the bloodstream, lessening the impact of the fructose on the body.
Examining the Effects of Sugar in Fruit
An interesting study conducted in South Africa involved individuals eating a diet of primarily fruit for 24 weeks. During that time period, there were no detrimental effects on their blood sugar levels, they did not develop obesity, nor was their cardiovascular health (determined by blood pressure and cholesterol levels) compromised.
Anti-sugar nutrition expert Dr. Robert Lustig from the University of California, San Francisco, is a fan of fruit consumption. Not only does the fiber slow the absorption of the sugar, but it also changes the balance of bacteria in the intestinal tract, providing a healthy environment for the good bacteria in our bodies to thrive.
Another benefit of fruits is all of their antioxidants. Including a variety of fruits in the diet provides a smorgasbord of antioxidants for the body’s cells, protecting from cancer, enhancing vision, and providing all the other benefits we hear antioxidants praised for.
The Bottom Line
So, are fruits as bad for you as sugar? The answer is a resounding “no”. Research continues to grow regarding the health-giving benefits of eating fruits. In fact, research out of Britain linked the consumption of at least seven servings a day of fruits and vegetables to happier, mentally healthier people. So, go ahead reach for that apple, eat a handful of blueberries, and enjoy a delicious grapefruit: your body will thank you for it. Just don’t substitute bottle fruit juice for the whole fruit: you lose the benefits of the whole package and send a dose of sugar to your bloodstream.
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