Fruit has been maligned by many who argue that the sugar content cancels out its nutritional value, but doctors say it’s a myth.
Apples, blueberries, bananas, oranges, and dozens of other fruits are nutrient-dense and low in calories, with a wide range of benefits from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
While many people discount fruit – sometimes known as ‘nature’s candy‘ – as too high in sugar to be healthy, nutrition experts insist that the type of sugar the body takes in makes a big difference.
It’s nearly impossible to take in too much fructose, the sugar in fruit, and it has the least impact on your blood sugar, making it safe for diabetics.
Sucrose, meanwhile, is made up of the simple sugars glucose and fructose and is commonly called ‘table sugar’. It can be found naturally, but it is commonly added to sweets and other processed foods in quantities that health officials say are driving up the obesity and diabetes epidemics in the US.
Ms Kathleen Lopez, a New Hampshire-based nutrition expert, told DailyMail.com: ‘I have heard, I would say over the past, maybe five or 10 years, certain groups of people who choose not to eat fruit or feel that it’s not healthy for them.’
Candies and other sweets are full of sugars, namely sucrose, a so-called disaccharide that is formed when glucose and fructose react together to form a single molecule.
The simple sugar can elevate your blood sugar levels in the minutes and hours following its consumption.
Repeated spikes in your blood sugar can, over time, cause problems with your kidneys, nerves, eyes, and heart.
Fructose, meanwhile, needs to be converted into glucose by the liver before it can be used by the body.
This means it doesn’t cause a massive spike in blood sugar, at least at levels found in fruit.
Fruit is also packed with fiber which delays digestion. This delay will not only help you feel full, but it will also not spike blood sugar levels as quickly as if you had consumed the fruit in juice form.
That is not the only benefit of fiber. A 2009 study from scientists in Quebec suggested that fiber helps regulate ghrelin, a hormone that signals appetite, which could help people lose weight over the long term.
In 2012, a group of endocrinologists from Wake Forest University reported that for each 10-gram increase in soluble fiber in the diets of more 1,000 people aged 18 to 81, the rate of visceral fat (VAT) accumulation decreased by nearly four percent. The decrease in VAT reduces the amount of fat surrounding organs deep in the abdominal cavity.
Waist circumference is a good indicator of how much fat is deep inside the belly.
Soluble fiber, or the type that dissolves in water, helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol, a waxy fat-like substance produced by the liver.
Taking in between five and 10 grams of soluble fiber every day – equal to about a cup of blackberries and blueberries – lowers LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.
Once inside the intestines, soluble fiber binds to cholesterol which prevents the substance from entering the bloodstream and traveling to other parts of the body. It is then excreted through feces.
Fruit is also a nutrient-dense powerhouse that supplies the body with key micronutrients such as vitamins C and A, potassium, folate, and antioxidants that can help boost the immune system.
Apples, for example, are very high in soluble as well as insoluble fiber, giving the feeling of fullness without a heavy calorie load.
By comparison, candies and other foods high in simple sugars are typically high calorie-dense, meaning you need to eat a lot of them to feel full, raising the risk of weight gain.
Apples are also rich in vitamin C and polyphenols, which are believed to reduce inflammation and improve heart and gut health.
Blueberries have been dubbed ‘superfoods’ for the massive nutritional punch they pack.
They are well known for their strong antioxidant properties, are very high in fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K. They can even help neutralize free radical damage to DNA.
A 2007 study conducted by Dutch researchers asked 168 healthy people to drink a liter of a blueberry-apple juice blend daily.
After four weeks, the oxidative stress on DNA caused by free radicals had fallen 20 percent.
People should be wary of fruit juice, though, according to nutritionists who caution that it is commonly loaded with unnecessary sugar.
Sarasota – based nutritionist Bonni London told DailyMail.com: ‘Big picture, you want to stick with whole fruit, absolutely trying to stay away from any sort of juice, because there is a major difference once we take out all the fiber and we don’t have to chew anymore. It’s basically liquid sugar.
She added that not all fruit is created equal when it comes to nutritional value. Grapes, bananas, and pineapples are all high in fructose.
While this particular type of sugar is not inherently harmful, nutritionists caution that too much of anything can be dangerous.
An excess of fructose has been linked with hypertriglyceridemia – too many triglycerides (fats) in the blood which raises the risk of atherosclerosis and related heart diseases – as well as fatty liver disease.
An all-fruit diet can be too much for someone who has an underlying health condition. People with diabetes, for instance, should prioritize vegetables.
Ms London said: ‘ I don’t think we need to fear apples, but everything in moderation, sticking with whole foods, eating seasonally.’
Kathleen Lopez, meanwhile, stressed the importance of taking a person’s whole health into consideration when determining how much fructose is too much fructose.
She said: ‘As a practitioner, I would always consider looking into their underlying metabolic health, so what is their health already when they’re coming to talk to me about their diet, or what they’ve heard about a certain food group?
‘Gene variants are important, I always consider activity levels of the person, and then their circadian health.
‘Are they sleeping? Are they exposed to the right types of light at the right times of day? And are they under a significant amount of stress or not? And so whenever somebody asked me if this food is healthy, I always try to consider an individual’s biochemistry.’