Why Are People Saying Fruit Is Unhealthy?
A nutritionist weighs in on the benefits of nature's candy.
The latest food being demonized is sugar. There’s been water cooler chatter that sugar, even from fruit, can make you gain weight. Fortunately, you can still enjoy nature’s candy without worry and reap all its benefits.
The Benefits of Fruit
According to the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines approximately 85% of Americans don’t meet the recommended daily amount of fruit. All types of fruit — fresh, dried, juiced, frozen and canned — provide an array of nutrients including fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Fiber is under consumed by Americans and has been labelled as a nutrient for concern, according to the 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines. In addition, fruit provides phytonutrients that help prevent and fight disease. For example berries like strawberries, blackberries and blueberries contain anthocyanins, a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Research has shown that anthocyanins may help ward off diabetes, keep your eyes healthy and lower the risk of certain types of cancer.
But Doesn’t Fruit Spike Blood Sugar?
Yes, the sugar in fruit does increase blood sugar — but your body is equipped to handle it. “As your body digests fruit and converts it into blood sugar, your blood sugar rises. At this point, your body secretes insulin to bring your blood sugar back to a regular level. Insulin then tells your cells and muscles to use the blood sugar for energy,” explains Jim White RDN, ACSM EX-P, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios and nutrition partner with Welch’s. So what happens to sugar you don’t use? If you eat more calories than you expend, the body will store the excess sugar (from any food) as fat — but if you’re taking in fruit (or other foods with sugar) as a balanced part of your diet, your cells will use the sugar as energy. This doesn’t mean that the sugar will automatically turn into fat — it certainly won’t especially if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.
It’s also important to remember that fruit also provides fiber, especially whole, dried, frozen and canned. This helps slow down the absorption of the sugar, and allows your body to utilize the carbs for energy over a longer period of time.
What About Fruit and Exercise?
The sugar in fruit is also an excellent pre-workout food choice because it provides your muscles with the energy it needs to perform. In addition, fruits also have antioxidants which can be beneficial to reduce oxidative stress that comes from exercising. According to White, “Tart cherry juice or Concord grape juice have continued to be correlated with faster recovery times, and enhanced performance in athletes.” White recommends that when eating fruit during other times of the day, pair it with a fat or protein to avoid any large spikes in blood sugar, and for a more satiating snack.
And remember that all forms of fruit are made primarily of carbohydrates. If you’re in a rush, you can always grab 100% fruit juice, opt for a quick fruit smoothie made with Greek yogurt, or grab a handful of tart dried cherries on the way out the door.
Bottom Line: Fruit provides an array of health benefits, but don’t be afraid of the natural sugar they contain. That sugar provides your body with energy, especially when you exercise. And just remember — nobody ever got “fat” from eating one too many mangos.