What’s Wrong With Fruit? The Skinny on Fruit Sugars, Carbs and Nutrition
Once upon a time, people were told to eat as much fruit as possible. In fact, during the post-World War II era, fruit was right up there with veggies on the “respect the food” list every parent wanted to push on the children (and claim they were consuming more of themselves).
There’s no doubt about it, fruit can be absolutely delicious, particularly the large-size, very sweet varieties that appear in store produce bins today. Yet if you’re interested in nutrition and have delved into various blogs and websites, you’ve undoubtedly seen warnings against fruit due to the fact that “fructose is just another sugar” (technically true – we’ll get to that in a moment) and the fact that “fruit and vegetables aren’t interchangeable – fruit has FAR more calories and carbs” (partially true; we’ll discuss this as well).
However, unlike in the past, today most locales – even rural ones – in first-world nations can obtain fruit year-round in many forms, locally or imported. We have, it would seem, a glut of fruit rather than the occasional apple or small orange of our grandparents’ time (and delight).
What people are finding is that there really can be too much of a good thing – even fruit. But is fruit all THAT bad? Isn’t there valuable nutrition to many fruits? What about “lower sugar” fruits? And should we even be worrying at all, or is “limit fruit” just the latest in a long history of dietary fads?
Fruit: Is It Nutritious?
Let’s be clear: we’re not making judgments, nor are we plugging for organic v. other growing forms of fruit or any other food item. However, how fruit is grown has impacted its form today (as has been a tradition throughout the history of agriculture).
Most fruit, no matter how and where it’s grown, if disease-free does have more value than potential deficits nutrition-wise. The types and amounts will vary, but nearly any fruit will contain some sort of vitamin complex (C is predominant in many citrus fruits, for example), as well as minerals simply due to being a plant that is grown from mineral-inhabited soil.
On the other hand, growth engineering – which can be as simple as cross-pollination of desired strains, or as complex as laboratory-enhanced varieties – has meant a desirable larger size and other effects such as pest resistance but could result in nutrition-leached food.
In our desire for size, taste and texture, we may have occasionally missed the boat on the nutritious aspect of various fruits and gone straight to fructose-overconcentration, lower vitamin and/or mineral content, and other characteristics that could be hurting us in the long run, at least with overconsumption of fruit to the elimination of other food groups.
If Fruit Contains Vitamins and Minerals, What’s the Problem?
Actually, in the absence of extenuating dietary considerations or certain health conditions, there’s no problem at all with eating fruit – in, as with anything else, moderation.
Where a problem potentially begins is in overconsumption, and/or when one is required to restrict anything the specific fruit contains, such as:
- Acidity. If one has a sensitive stomach, stomach ulcer or certain medical conditions, the acidity in some fruits, particularly but not exclusively citrus, can cause an issue. Ask your doctor what dietary choices are best for you if you’re currently being treated for any medical condition and/or are on any medications, even if the issue appears to be non-stomach/intestine related.
- Carbohydrates. Fruit ISN’T necessarily “just like” veggies, and no, not all fruits are ultra-high in carbs (take tomatoes or fresh pumpkin, for example). However, overall, the fruits that we in the western world consume the most (bananas top the list in the U.S.) do tend to be more concentrated in carbohydrates. This can be a problem for diabetics controlling their carbohydrates or people attempting to lose weight by restricting carbohydrates as part of their dietary plan.
- Sugar. It’s a myth that “it’s the sugar” in fruit (and other foods) that “causes” diabetes; actually, there is a long list of potential causes of Type II diabetes, whereas Type I diabetes often appears in childhood and may not be related to diet at all. So where did the myth come from? Carbohydrates, which convert to sugars within the body no matter how they start out, raise insulin levels naturally. Everyone’s body performs or at least attempts this operation, but spiked insulin can be a problem for some. At the same time, some people ARE sugar-restricted, and natural or not, fructose is a sugar. If you have restrictions, ask your doctor.
- Calories. Six ounces of an average apple contains 85 calories; compare that to 6 cooked (therefore, reduced) ounces of broccoli, at just 60 calories. And apples aren’t the highest-calorie food on the fruits list. Six ounces of pineapple, for instance, has 95 calories. Bananas come in at over 115 – close to double that of broccoli. These may seem like small distinctions, but they add up, especially if one is doubling or tripling recommended servings (not hard to do, when “a serving” is half a banana or or half a cup of strawberries). Widening the gap further, there are veggies even lower in calories (spinach, romaine lettuce and celery, for example) and fruits that tend to be eaten in concentrated forms, in syrup or juice or in dried varieties (raisins, plums and banana chips), or as juice, all of which amp the calories considerably. If you’re controlling your calories, keep total fruit in check as with any other food, and count the calories – don’t consider fruit a “free” food.
The Bottom Line on Fruit
Fruit CAN be part of a health-conscious diet. Ask your doctor if you should be eating fruits and/or whether you should be controlling your carbohydrates, sugars – including natural sugar, such as fructose – or overall calories. Then work whatever the recommendations are into your diet. Enjoy – and be well!