As sugar sizzles under the media spotlight, you may be rethinking the role of fruit in your diet. A humble banana provides five teaspoons of sugar, so is fruit a friend or foe? Here’s what our dietitians know…
If you read health blogs and social media sites, you’ll know that some people consider sugar a dietary demon that can harm our health. This wave of anti-sugar sentiment is now pushing us to drastically slash — or even quit — the sweet stuff.
Limiting the contents of your biscuit tin is a no-brainer if you’re looking to cut your sugar intake, but what about the fruit bowl? A large banana contains 21g of sugar, the equivalent of five teaspoons — roughly the same number of sweet spoonfuls in a standard 40g bag of Maltesers. So should you eat less fruit, or just drop it from your diet altogether? With sugar now under such scrutiny, you’re probably asking these kinds of questions and more, and the answers may surprise you.
Fruit under attack
Fructose is a natural fruit sugar that’s also present in table sugar. Some anti-sugar lobbyists name fructose as the worst type of sugar and the root cause of the obesity epidemic — and some even go as far as calling it toxic. They point to research that they claim proves how fructose leads to weight gain and metabolic disturbances. However, they often neglect to mention that these controversial studies are conducted on rats that were fed six times the amount of fructose we eat in a day. During recent studies of humans who followed a high-fructose diet, researchers observed that fructose is not the culprit behind weight gain, and that the real danger lies in consuming extra kilojoules — wherever they come from.
The sweet truth is…
We do eat too much sugar. When you factor in the natural sugars in our food (such as those found in fruit) and the extra amount we consume in the form of sugary drinks and snacks, each Aussie’s average intake adds up to a whopping 30 teaspoons a day — double the amount Australian dietary guidelines recommend.
Despite all the noise from anti-sugar activists about sugar being just as dangerous as cocaine or tobacco, most experts agree that, in moderation, as part of a healthy balanced diet, sugar poses no threat to your health. Few long-term studies suggest sugar itself heightens the risk of obesity and disease. What we do know is that these risks rise with the amount of sugar you eat, because consuming too much can play havoc with your health. So, basically, if you eat a varied healthy diet, there’s no reason to ban sugar altogether.
This is where fruit starts to shine. A piece of fruit is low in kilojoules yet high in vitamins, minerals and fibre, all of which help guard against stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure, and may also lower the risk of certain cancers. Plus, delicious fruit delivers a raft of nutrients that keeps us looking and feeling good.
The trouble with juice
The relationship between sugar and fruit gets a little more complex when fruit becomes juice. Fruit juice doesn’t contain the healthy fibre you get from the whole fruit, so it not only fails to make you feel full in the way a piece of fruit can, but also makes it very easy to drink too much fruit, and too many kilojoules.
Studies link a high intake of fruit juice with increased risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes, giving us even more reasons to eat, rather than drink, our fruit.
Cutting fruit from your diet in an attempt to limit your sugar intake is an extreme and unnecessary measure. Studies show that fruit-rich diets do not cause weight gain and may even promote weight loss.
These days, only slightly more than half of Australians are eating the two daily serves of fruit that the national guidelines recommend (and far fewer are eating enough veg), so most of us will benefit from eating more fresh fruit, not less.
Given these stats, you could be forgiven for obsessing about the sugar in fruit. But remember that on balance, fruit is most definitely your friend, and a far better choice than biscuits or chocolate when you want to satisfy a sweet craving.
Fruit is an important part of a healthy eating plan; just be mindful of portion sizes. Stick to two pieces a day and you’ll have plenty of room in your diet for other healthy foods, such as vegetables, dairy products, lean meats and wholegrains.
Do you know your serves?
Although fruit is low in kilojoules, its sweetness makes it easy to eat more than what we need. Watch out for tubs of store-bought fruit salad, in particular. These can carry a hefty kilojoule load, causing you to unwittingly gain weight when you think you’ve made a health-boosting choice.
Aim for 2 serves of fruit per day
Small takeaway fruit salad (300g) = 2 serves
250ml glass of fruit juice = 2 serves
1 1/2 tablespoons sultanas = 1 serve
Large takeaway fruit salad (600g) = 4 serves
8 dried-apricot halves = 2 serves
1 tub of diced two-fruits in juice = 1 serve
600ml takeaway cup of fresh fruit juice = 5 serves