“Of course,” many people would say, “It’s part of my five-a-day.” The “five-a-day” is one of the best known dietary messages publicised by the UK Government – five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, for healthy eating. But wait, the Government doesn’t care whether that’s five portions of only vegetables in total, five portions of only fruit in total, or five of both fruit and vegetables together in total.
So, according to those recommendations, you could eat five servings of fruit each day and consider that healthy based on that guideline.
Let me be clear. Five portions of non-starchy vegetables a day – in fact, ten servings of non-starchy vegetables a day – go for it! But five servings of fruit a day? Maybe, maybe not.
What’s the story?
Fruit contains glucose and fructose, the sugars found in fruit. Further, different fruits have different levels of fructose relative to glucose. In order to understand fruit and its impact on our bodies better, we need to understand how fruit is metabolised (processed) in our bodies, namely, the fructose. I’ll keep it simple, I promise.
Your body metabolises fructose differently to glucose.
Unlike glucose, fructose does not properly stimulate an insulin response, which in turn does not suppress ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and doesn’t trigger leptin (the “satiety hormone”) production in your body. These hormones are crucial for sending signals to your body to tell you when you’re full.
The result? You eat more.
I remember deciding to eat an apple for a mid-afternoon snack when I was in my twenties and going through one of my eat-more-healthily phases. I soon gave that up because I found that the apple left me feeling hungrier than before and craving more food. At first I thought it was just me, when a colleague in the office, upon spotting me snacking on my apple, commented that she often felt hungrier after eating a fruit than if she didn’t. Coincidence? Well, now I understand why.
What’s more fructose goes straight to your liver to be processed where it is more rapidly absorbed than regular sugar.
Your liver can handle about 15 grams of fructose. Beyond that and your liver gets overwhelmed, it just can’t keep up. To cope, it shovels it into your fat cells to keep you safe (fat cells are inert and so putting the excess into your fat cells will stop overload because now your liver doesn’t have to deal with it any further). The stress from this overwhelm in turn causes low-level inflammation. And did you know that inflammation is thought to be behind many visible signs of ageing?
Fructose also increases glycation (the way protein molecules bond with sugar molecules in our body) which in turn has been implicated in many age-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases. It also sets you up for insulin resistance and eventually Type 2 diabetes.
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Fructose on its own is not evil; it’s excessive fructose that can make us fat and/or sick.
So Should You Stop Eating Fruit Altogether?
No. But what would be good for you to consider is which fruit you’re eating, how you’re consuming it and how much. Your limits will depend also on your own bio-individuality. For example, many a raw foodist who eats a very clean diet and exercises well is able to consume a considerable level of fruit and remain healthy.
Fruit – especially organic fruit – does have a lot going for it. It’s rich in fibre, vitamins and other nutrients that are good for us. They can also help us to satisfy our desire for something sweet.
As a guideline, if your aim is to lose some fat, then you’ll want to limit yourself to one to two servings a day and keep to the fruits with a lower glycaemic level, such as berries. This translates to approximately 5 grams of sugar per serving (about a teaspoon).
As an example, three ounces of grapes have about 12.5 grams of sugar compared to three ounces of strawberries, which have only about 4 grams of sugar.
Ideally, you’ll also want to consume your fruit in its original form, meaning, eat fresh fruit. Dried fruit is concentrated sugar and boy, it’s so easy to eat a lot of those without even noticing. As for fruit in the form of fruit juices, please be very mindful of these. Not only do they go down quickly, but the processing removes much of the fibre and a lot of the nutrients are lost, leaving you with a high level of fructose.
An annoyance of mine is how marketing campaigns would have you think that drinking fruit juice contributes to one of your five a day. Unsuspecting and well-meaning parents give their young children fruit juice, thinking that it is good and healthy for them when this may lead to the over-consumption of fructose. Unknowingly, they may be setting their children up for future health challenges. This makes me mad!
Here’s a chart, extracted from The Sugar Fix: The High-Fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick by Robert Johnson, MD so you can gauge the level of fructose in fruit.
You can still eat, say, mangoes, for example. I love mangoes! But just don’t eat it everyday. Consider the fact that many fruits are seasonal, which means that were it not for modern methods, we certainly wouldn’t be eating fruit every day and all year round. Also, consider buffering the sugar load by eating it with protein and fat. For example, eat your apple with some plain Greek yogurt or a yummy sweet pear in a delicious halloumi salad. Or eat your fruit with some nuts, or put some berries in a smoothie with flax or chia seeds.
So there we have it. Eat your fruit, enjoy your fruit. But be mindful of how much you’re eating, how you’re consuming it and how much you’re downing. The recommended five-a-day may perhaps be too much for you.
If you want to make it really simple, then just do this.
Stick to the citrus and the berries and savour up to three servings a day.