by Selva Wohlgemuth, Co-op News contributor
Selva Wohlgemuth, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist
Dear Nutritionist: Now that we are moving toward the summer months, I want your opinion on fruit consumption. Is it true that since fruit is high in sugar we should limit our consumption? And does fruit consumption lead to health conditions?
Fresh seasonal fruit is so delicious! Nothing compares to a freshly picked bright-red local strawberry or, when traveling in Hawaii, a fresh papaya drizzled with lime juice. Especially in the hotter months, cooler water-rich foods like fruit are often more appealing than a hot meal.
Unfortunately, with the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets many individuals are fearful of fruit. Many paleo and low-carb diet advocates recommend sticking to only small amounts of low-sugar fruits, like berries, stating that other fruits provide too much unnecessary sugar. I’ve had multiple patients in my practice that are afraid to eat more than one-half cup of berries per day.
I agree that it is important to reduce your intake of added refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, sugar, and other processed foods. However, this does not immediately place fruit in the same category.
Although fruit contains sugar (glucose and fructose), it is not found in the same concentration as high fructose corn syrup in sodas, pastries, pancake syrups, etc. For example, soda contains a sugar ratio of 60% fructose to 40% glucose. One 20-ounce bottle of Coke contains roughly 36 grams of fructose; compare that to a banana, which contains 7 grams of fructose, or a medium sized apple with 13 grams of fructose. When do you eat seven bananas in one sitting? Never! Plus, that banana comes in a completely different package: rich in fiber and made by nature.
You are not addicted to sugar if you enjoy fruit. Fruits are rich in easy-to-digest carbohydrates, antioxidant-rich vitamins and minerals, gut-healing fiber, and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Plus, they are easy to throw into a bag and hit the road. If fruit is lacking in your diet, you may be missing out on a lot of health benefits.
BENEFITS OF FRUIT
1. Rich in Polyphenols
Polyphenols are plant compounds that are most concentrated in the outer parts of plants. These chemical compounds have been studied in relation to their potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities. Each type of polyphenol has different health benefits. Therefore, it is important to consume a variety of unpeeled fruit (unless it’s a melon or banana of course). Polyphenols have been shown to help:
- Reduce inflammation
- Prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders
- Fight infections
- Promote the growth of good gut bacteria.
2. Rich in Soluble Fibers and Prebiotics
Soluble fibers and prebiotic fibers help support the growth of good gut bacteria. When these fibers reach the large intestine, they are fermented by bacteria and produce short-chain fatty acids which help fuel colon cells and prevent colon cancer.
- Apples, oranges, and bananas are rich in soluble fiber.
3. Rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a nutrient that is very sensitive to heat, light, and air. Therefore, whole fruit becomes an excellent source of vitamin C. It is suggested that the current RDA for vitamin C is too low (75-90mg) and that we should be shooting for at least twice as much from whole foods. Especially if you are under a lot of stress, exercise a lot, or have an inflammatory condition, getting plenty of vitamin C is essential.
- Excellent sources of vitamin C: kiwis, oranges, papayas, strawberries, and pineapples.
4. Easily Digestible Whole Food Carbohydrates for Active People
If you are on the go and active, especially in the summer months, fruit can be a great way to fuel your activity. Generally, your carbohydrate intake increases with activity. If you are unsure what to pack to fuel a mountain bike ride, trail run, or hike, pack some fruit! It comes in its own protective barrier and is easy to eat.
- Easy fruit to pack: apple, banana, orange, and grapefruit.
5. Helps Digest Protein
Some fruits contain unique enzymes that aid in digesting proteins and help reduce inflammation, support wound healing, and relieve constipation. You can even buy digestive enzymes in supplement stores made with fruit enzymes.
- Protein digesting fruits: papaya, pineapple, and kiwi.
Daily fruit consumption depends on the individual. Some can tolerate more than others due to activity levels and certain health conditions. For example, individuals with a fructose intolerance or severe gut imbalances may not do well with apples, pears, cherries, figs, and mangos. On the other hand, those with metabolic disorders like diabetes and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) may have to stick to lower-sugar fruit, like kiwi and berries, or pair fruit with protein for better blood-sugar balance. If you have any of these issues it may be best to work with a dietitian to help you find out what fruit and what portion is right for you.
Don’t fear fruit! If you are a healthy individual, eating seasonal organic fruit to your liking can provide many health benefits and should not be avoided. I generally recommend 2 servings of fruit per day and adjust the types of fruit based on the individual needs of the patient.