So, last Friday I attended the first of a few Christmas "dos" this year, and true to form I found myself sharing a table with a chap who was heard to say, not once, but twice, my personal favourite of nutritional titbits, "Of course, you shouldn't eat any fruit really, it's full of sugar."
I resisted the temptation to run screaming from the room, or indeed to get on my soap box. To be fair, I was a couple of pints down and stuffing my face full of Balti and naan bread so any nutritional lesson from me at that time would be a bit rich, but I did resolve to write a short article this week explaining why fruit, sugar packed or not, is not evil!
In simple terms, when we take on sugar an increase in our blood sugar levels occurs. If we use up these increased levels (through expelled energy) then no problem. If we don't then the excess gets put into storage (fat).
Concentrated forms of sugar such as white and brown sugar, malt, glucose, honey and syrup are fast releasing, meaning they casue a rapid increase in our blood sugar. Therefore, if they are digested in anything but minimal quantities then the body is placed under more pressure to use it up before being stored. Furthermore, most concentrated forms of sugars such as these are usually missing any form of vitamins or minerals. White sugar, for example, has over 90% of it's vitamins and minerals removed in processsing.
These concentrated sugars are known as simple sugars (sucrose, dextrose, maltose, lactose, glucose and fructose). In contrast you may have heard of complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides/starches and indegestible polyssaccharides/fibre) which are much more slowly digested, providing a more sustained and more managable energy release. For example, from grains, beans, vegetables, potatoes and fibre from same.
So where does fruit fit in?
Well actually it is a simple sugar made up of invariably fructose and sometimes glucose as well. However, while fructose is similar to other simple sugars in that it enters the bloodstream quickly it is classified as slow releasing because our bodies cannot use fructose in its natural form and it takes time to convert it to glucose.
Furthermore, fruit is packed full of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, further enhanced as it's often eaten raw.
There is a lot of negative press at the moment surrounding fruit and specifically fruit drinks, such as smoothies and concentrated juices. These do indeed contain phenomenal amounts of sugars which would raise the blood sugar beyond most people's ability to "use" rather than "store". However, this is only because in a single serving you are drinking the equivalent of a dozen or more pieces of fruit.
Eaten in the recommended quantities (which is 10 - 15 pieces of fruit and veg per day - not 5 by the way - 5 is the minimum), a variety of fruit will do the following:
Reduce hunger cravings
Provide more balanced energy
Increase metabolic efficiency
Reduce risk of cardiac disease
Reduce blood pressure
So next time you hear someone say you shouldn't eat fruit, maintain some sense of perspective...especially if they are trying to sell you a milkshake!