We have all and always known that fruit is good for our health in so many different ways. However, in the past few years more and more people have challenged the belief about the health benefits of fruit.
We are literally being bombarded by stories in the media reporting that fruit is bad for our health because it has sugar. These kinds of conclusions have come from the fact that we now know that refined sugar is bad for our health and so most things that have sugar are also bad for our health. We are being told that the sugar from fruit can make us gain weight, fail to lose weight, is bad for you if you have diabetes or that it could even cause you to get dental cavities.
To get to the bottom of this dilemma of whether sugar in fruit is bad for us or not, we have to understand that this whole debate stems from the fact that fruit in comparison to most other whole foods is relatively high in sugar and somehow because it has sugar, it is necessarily bad for our health.
The fact is most food that tastes sweet (aside from sweeteners) will have some form of sugar. The ability to taste sweet, has been assigned to a small organ in your mouth called your tongue. Indeed, your tongue contains an abundance of sweet receptors and for a good reason; To alert you to the best possible place to find sugar containing foods.
Would God have designed us with a mouth that has an incredible capacity to taste sweet if all sweet tasting food was bad? I don’t think so.
Well then, these receptors must be useful to us and what the sweet sensation that they are meant to experience must be good for us in some way. The desire therefore for sweet-tasting foods and fruit in particular is perfectly healthy and natural!
In fact to show you how important fruit is, even the Bible hints at its centrality in the human diet. In Genesis chapter 3, Eve mentioned this to the serpent;
"From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die."
This biblical reference just shows you that one of the most important foods for man since the time of creation has been fruit. Fruit has been eaten for many generations since then. It cannot all of a sudden become bad for us because it has sugar or because it is sweet tasting.
The question then is, since we are designed to taste and enjoy sweet foods, are all sweet tasting foods good for us?
The answer is NO.
Not all sweet tasting foods are good for us, but neither are all sweet tasting foods bad for us.
What we do know for sure is that the body needs sugar and calories to produce energy and meet the bodily needs, but we must distinguish between artificial/refined sugar which is not good for the body and natural sugar in whole food that is good for us.
There is a lot of evidence that added and refined sugar is harmful. This includes table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup, which are both about half glucose, half fructose. The main reason these refined sugars are harmful is because of the adverse effects of fructose on our blood sugar and metabolism when consumed in large amounts or when they enter the blood too quickly. These refined sugars raise blood sugars much faster than should ordinarily happen and they go on further to increase the risk of a whole range of diseases like cancer, heart disease, dementia, and obesity.
The media and some people have propagated the idea that because added sugars are bad, the same must apply to all sugars and therefore to fruits, which also contain fructose.
However, this is completely wrong, because fructose is only harmful in large amounts and when it is consumed outside of a natural food. And it is almost impossible to overeat fructose by eating fruit.
Fresh fruit, the source of natural sweetness, is health promoting and an excellent source of calories for the human body. Yes, fruit does have sugar, but the sugar in fruit is packaged in a whole food that is high in fiber, nutrients, and other useful compounds. When you eat a whole fruit like a mango, the process of biting, chewing for a while (what we call chewing resistance) and the whole eating experience means that you will eat it over a couple of minutes. The entire process of eating the fruit together with the chewing resistance ensures that whatever sugar is in the fruit will enter your stomach and then your blood slowly in a way that will not raise your blood sugar levels. This is the way the sugar from fruit is meant to be obtained by the body; slowly and with all the other nutrients that the fruit provides. When we eat whole fruit, it is almost impossible to consume fructose in amounts that can cause harm.
The sugar in fruit is therefore very much necessary but should be obtained by the body through the natural process of eating the whole fruit. Fruit eaten whole is not only an excellent source of sugar and calories but also all the other benefits it provides. For this reason, most fruits (like apples) that take a while to eat and digest, therefore ensures that the fructose hits the liver slowly.
It is only when the form of the fruit is changed or when the sugar is extracted from its natural package and used to excess that it may become a problem to our health.
This is why fruit juice (one of the ways fruit is changed form of its original state) may not be very good for the body.
Yes. When we make juice, we change the fruit into a liquid form that is very easy to swallow, does not require chewing and will enter our digestive system very quickly. This means that the sugar in the fruit that would have entered our body slowly if we had eaten the fruit whole, will enter our body much more quickly because it arrives in the stomach all at once. It is possible to have two mangoes that are in juice form drank and swallowed in 15 seconds, but it is not possible to eat two mangoes in 15 seconds. The amount of sugar that will be delivered to the body will be the same whether eaten as whole fruit or as juice but when drank as juice the sugar will be delivered much faster ito the blood. This rapid rise in sugar could pose some challenges to our bodies and health.
We make the issue of drinking juice even more challenging in 2 ways.
· First, we tend to extract the juice from the rest of the fruit through juice extractors and sieving. This removes fiber that is essential to help regulate the rate of blood sugar delivery to the blood. Juice that is prepare in this way should therefore be avoided or kept to a minimum.
· Secondly is that sometimes on top of making juice and sieving it, we then go ahead to add refined table sugar. Such juice surely can't be called healthy. Of course, if you add sugar to the fruit juice you will make it much worse.
I, therefore, would like to strongly emphasize the importance of having whole fruit in our diet and not limiting the fruit just because it has sugar. Fruit should be eaten in abundance, and I recommend everyone should have at least four servings of fruit per day, including children. Use the size of your fist to estimate the size of a serving.
From this discussion so far, I want to emphasize some of the important points but also add a few additional pointers.
1. Fruit offers more than just sugar. It is a complete whole food that provides much-needed sugar in a controlled and regulated way while providing lots of other useful, beneficial nutrients and compounds that have been shown to reduce the risk for cancer, heart disease, eye problems, immunity problems and more. It is one of the best foods available and should not be avoided but eaten correctly.
2. The issue is not whether fruit has sugar, but whether the sugar that the fruit has is good for the body or not. It is clear that sugar in fruit is good for the body. The body needs sugar and fruit is probably the best source.
3. How fruit is consumed is also very important. Fruit should be eaten as a whole fruit, with the skin, peel and everything else that it comes with (Of course the idea is to eat only the parts that are edible). The habit of extracting juice from the fruit should be avoided and fruit that can be eaten with the peels should be eaten with them on. Fruit eaten this way is actually very healthy.
4. We must avoid making fruit into fruit juice. If you would like some fruit juice, ensure that the whole fruit is used, use a good nutrient extractor/blender that keeps the whole fruit in the juice and please do not add artificial/ table sugar.
5. When we choose fruit, we should remember that every colour of fruit offers an additional health benefit based on its colour. The pigments that make them red, yellow, purple, orange or even green offer additional health benefits. For example, colour purple comes with resveratrol, red with lycopene, orange with beta carotene, nutrients that offer amazing health benefits. You don’t have to be a nutritionist, just eat a rainbow of colours as much as you can.
6. Certain fruits will offer more calories or will raise the blood sugar slightly faster than others, but this is not likely to be a problem unless you have problems with blood sugar control or want to restrict calorie intake for a particular reason. I want to be clear that fruit should not be stopped or reduced in an effort to reduce calories as a long-term strategy. Fruit has so many benefits that there are better places to cut calories like from starchy carbohydrates which by the way usually have much more sugar than fruit.
7. Caution must be taken with fruit that have been genetically modified or fruit that has been “improved” upon to make them bigger, sweeter or to produce more juice. Such fruit is likely to have much more sugar than fruit that occurs naturally. Such fruits are probably the ones contributing to the negative picture that fruit may be having because of their higher than normal sugar content.
Whole fruits contain a relatively small amount of fructose, and they take a while to chew and digest. Humans can easily tolerate the small amounts of fructose found in fruit and fruit should remain as an important and integral part of our diets. Simply choose whole natural fresh fruit that is not processed into juice and where possible stick to the original and traditional varieties instead of GMOs and other modified fruit varieties.
I hope this article has shed some important light on fruit and helped to dispel any myths or resolve any confusion.
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Wishing you great health and happiness