Is the sugar in fruit bad for you? Sugar has recently come under the spotlight and is being blamed for our obesity epidemic. But this wave of anti-sugar sentiment has also begun to demonise fruit.
The truth is we do eat too much sugar. When you factor in natural sugars along with all the sugars found in sugary drinks, snacks, sweets and junk food it all adds up to a whopping amount. But we need to learn to differentiate between natural sugars and refined sugar.
Refined sugars that are added to doughnuts, cookies, cakes and candy have absolutely no nutritional value. They are simply there to add flavor and sweetness. Fruit on the other hand contains natural sugars, along with vitamins, minerals and fiber, all of which help to guard against disease. Plus they help keep us looking and feeling good. An added bonus.
So, is fruit good for you? The fact of the matter is fruit, when eaten as part of a balanced diet, will not make you fat. Fruit is actually low in calories and has a relatively low glycemic index. Studies have shown that diets high in fruit do not cause weight gain.
Sugars, like starches, are carbohydrates. Sugars are the smallest or simplest form of carbohydrate, and starches and fibre are larger molecules made up of many sugars joined together in chains. The bonds that hold the sugar units together in sugars and starches are broken down by digestive enzymes when consumed.
There are a number of different sugars that occur naturally in foods: glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose and lactose. When you eat foods containing sugars or starches, they are digested in your stomach and mostly broken down into glucose and fructose (except lactose, which is broken down into galactose and glucose).
Glucose and fructose are small enough to be absorbed through the small intestine into the bloodstream, carried around the body and then delivered to the body’s cells. Once inside a cell, glucose can be used immediately by the body for energy or it can be stored in muscle or liver cells as glycogen, to be broken down and used later.
The naturally occurring sugar in fruit is known as fructose. Fructose, when consumed in large quantities, has harmful effects on the body. However, it is almost impossible to consume enough fructose to cause harm simply by eating fruit. It must be remembered that fruit also contains fiber and water, making it quite filling. The fiber helps slow the breakdown of the sugar into your bloodstream, meaning that the fructose is absorbed into the liver slowly.
In contrast, when you consume processed foods high in sugar, such as soda or candy bars, the fructose goes straight to your liver.
When consumed in small amounts, the body can easily process fructose. One smoothie a day will certainly not do your body that sort of damage. And if you add leafy green vegetables, along with nuts and seeds, then your smoothie is balanced out nutrition wise.
However, the same cannot be said of fruit juices. Fruit juice is a concentrated form of fruit. Juice doesn’t contain all the fiber you get from whole fruit. So not only does it not make you feel full in the same way a piece of fruit can, it’s very easy to drink too much fruit and too many calories. Fruit juices are concentrated sources of sugar that quickly flood the bloodstream with sugar, followed by an equally fast fall in blood sugar, if not balanced with some protein, fat or fiber. This initial high, followed by an eventual blood sugar low will leave you wanting more sugar.
Sugar is found naturally in many foods and cannot be eliminated completely. The problem occurs when most of our sugar comes from processed foods, such as cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, jams, sauces and soft drinks.
So, swap that candy bar, chocolate or cookie for a piece of fruit and be confident you are doing your health a great big favor.
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