Today on the blog I’m going to share an article that I had published on www.welltodo.com this week with some important messages on something I get asked about a lot…fruit!
If you’re reading this here it’s likely you sit in the craving control camp and so do consider the fruit you eat. However, it’s worth getting your head around this messaging because as you start to lead a lower sugar life or make positive change, you may well get asked about fruit by others and can come unstuck how to answer (I know I did for a while). It’s very important not to communicate fruit as a sugar villain to others who aren’t controlled by sugar.
Image: Lauren Purnell
To fruit or not to fruit
It’s the topic that’s on everyone’s lips. What is the deal with fruit on a sugar-free or low sugar diet?
You read conflicting messages – health magazines say one thing, nutritionists say another and your personal trainer has an altogether different view. With differing messages, you can end up a bit confused.
Having been through the same fruit confusion myself when first exploring a life with a lot less sugar, and seeing my clients go through all the phases of sugar detoxing and low sugar life transition, here’s what you need to get you head around when it comes to fruit.
There is not a yes/no answer to the fruit question – it’s very personal.
Where you settle with fruit COMPLETELY depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Maybe you’re trying to reduce your calorie intake, lose weight, train for a marathon or get control over your sugar cravings. All of these things need a different approach. When you read blanket advice about fruit, be mindful that you have to factor in your personal context and goals.
Understanding fruit and fructose.
Fruit comes under fire because of its fructose content. An excess of fructose sugar in your diet isn’t good for your health because it is processed differently to other sugars, where it’s metabolised by the liver and can increase fatty acids in your blood and increase uric acid levels amongst a whole host of other things. At this stage it’s worth remembering that refined sugar is 50% fructose, and that fruits have varying amounts in them.
However, whilst fruit is a source of fructose, it’s also packaged up with fibre that helps slow down the absorption, not to mention it hosts an array of super health-promoting anti-oxidants and nutrients that are beneficial to your health. Bananas for example are great after intense exercise and an apple is a superb on-the-go snack. Therefore a small amount of fructose, especially if it’s in the form of whole unprocessed fruit, certainly won’t be having a detrimental impact on your health and may well enhance it.
So what’s the problem?
#1 Fruity products and ‘natural’ but processed stuff
The first issue with fruit and fructose is the sheer excess of processed ‘natural’ fruit in many products that strip out the fibre and/or concentrate the sugar.
Sweet things taste nice, and they sell. With the increasing amount of sweetness in our diets these days, we’ve grown very accustomed to the taste. As a result, we are bombarded daily with ‘healthy’ fruit filled natural sugar products. Whilst of course healthier than a Mars bar, frequently consuming all of these ‘healthy’ fruit based things – juices, smoothies, dried fruit bars, granolas – in addition to whole fruit itself, and you’ll likely find your fructose totals quickly tally up to a potentially unhealthy level.
#2 Craving control
The second issue lies in your cravings, control levels and personal preference to sweetness.
If you’re trying to increase your sensitivity to sweet things so that you’re less tempted by them and feel a bit more in control of how much you want to eat, eating an excess of fruit or fruity products isn’t going to help, and may even make things worse because you’re developing a preference for fructose.
It’s why you can get super healthy vegans, vegetarians, paleo and raw enthusiasts all still hooked on sugar even if they don’t actually eat refined sugar. The fruit or dried fruit is healthy until the excess fructose starts having a negative impact on your health or you start feeling habitually or emotionally dependent on it. Natural fructose, even in fruit, can be just as addictive as refined sugar fructose.
What to do
As you can see, there is no straightforward yes or no when it comes to fruit. It completely depends on where you are at with things, and what you’re trying to achieve, especially in terms of your relationship with sweet food and your cravings.
If you don’t quite feel in control of your sweet habits, then a sugar detox or temporary period of lower fructose (without fruit) may well help you tame the sweet tooth that sabotages your other healthier efforts. It will help you create new habits around savoury alternatives and become less dependent on sweet food in your day-to-day diet.
However, if you don’t feel cravings that often, or you’re able to satisfy them moderately with a little fruit here and there, then it is likely you can enjoy fruit as part of a healthy diet with no restriction needed.
Working out your personal optimum fruit amount takes a little experimentation, time and knowledge. Transitioning to lower sugar life can be a bit complicated on the fruit front as you go through but you can find your way to incorporate it sensibly in your health efforts. Use your cravings as your own gauge to determine how much is right for you and know that fruit absolutely can be part of a healthy lower sugar diet long term if you want it to be.
I’d really love to know what you think on this one so please leave a comment below on your general opinion or how you handle this topic with others. I’m widely opening the doors to discussion!