FUNCTIONAL FOOD | LET'S TALK ABOUT FRUIT, BABY
Today I want to address a topic I stumble upon and hear way too often: the demonization of fruit!
Fresh fruit is found in nature–you can go out and pick it from a tree if you fancy! Fruit is not only delicious with many textures and tastes but it is also full of goodness: vitamin C, certain B vitamins such as folate and pantothenic acid; and minerals like magnesium, potassium, copper selenium, zinc, manganese and iron, to name just a few.
So why has this wonderful food, that our bodies can use for fuel and nourishment, suddenly become the source of all evil?
Well...when it comes to fad diets and weight-loss gimmicks, there is always a new source of evil, one that can take the blame for all our food problems. First, everything was blamed on fat and poor nutritious avocados and nuts were shunned. Then, the finger was pointed to carbohydrates and people thought that if they even dared to look at a cup of brown rice or a sweet potato they would suddenly bloat into a balloon–unfortunately some people still believe this–and it’s not true!. Now, the spotlight is on sugar. Not just refined sugar–which I can concur offers no nutrition and does much more harm than good–but any source of natural sugar, such as the natural sugar found in fruit, is considered bad. WTF?
So now, instead of eating fruit, people are being encouraged to eat more and more protein: more protein powders, more isolated nutrients, more science lab experiments, more additives with names I cannot pronounce and have no idea how to spell, and less of the natural whole foods found in nature! Did you know that protein-rich foods can also induce insulin secretion? Studies have shown that a quarter pound of beef can raise insulin levels in diabetics as much as a quarter pound of straight sugar. Holy moly!
Anything in excess–even protein–can be turned to sugar in our bodies. And as with anything in excess, if it is not used as energy it can be stored as fat. I truly believe that foods, including protein, should be consumed in their whole packages. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, they say. It would be silly to think that our bodies metabolize 15 grams of only protein (without the fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fats it usually comes with when consume from a whole food source) the same way as when consumed in a cup of lentils, or ¼ cup of nuts–the other components and nutrients of the food are there for a reason! Anyway, I’m getting off topic…
Yes, fruits contain sugar we can use as energy but they also contain a whole lot of other good stuff. Some fruits contain antioxidants, which fight free radicals and are anti-inflammatory. They can help reduce the risk of cancer and improve arterial function. Adding berries such as blueberries or strawberries to a meal (1/2-1 cup) can minimize the detrimental effects of high glycemic foods.
“But Gina what about the sugar?”, you say. Ok. Glucose, one of the three simple sugars along with fructose and sucrose, is the brain’s primary source of energy, and it is necessary to carry out regular functions. But “doesn’t fruit contain fructose?”, you ask.
Fruit NATURALLY contain fructose. The key word here being “naturally”. No one added anything to it. It was “born” and grew this way! This fructose is metabolized almost completely in the liver where more than 50% of it is converted into glucose (that amazing source of energy our brain and entire cells likes so much better than anything) and it also replenishes glycogen (energy storage) in our liver. And, it does not cause insulin to be released–no insulin spikes; thank you very much!
But that’s not all! Along with fructose, fruit also contains fiber–which also helps to prevent a spike in blood sugar even further–, polyphenols, carotenes, flavonoids vitamins and minerals and is a great source of energy. The problem arises when the fructose in our food does not come from the natural fructose found in fruit, but rather when created in a lab as an isolated additive, or extracted from its whole form. Fructose as a “natural sweetener” has been isolated, stripped of nutrients, and binded with other additives. So, again, it is not the same as the sugar in fruit; the way it is recognized and metabolized in our bodies is completely different. On that note, high fructose corn syrup (aka “Dr. Evil”) is not derived from fruits. It is derived from corn syrup. So as you can see, sometimes all these scientific food experiments, that might have been a good idea at one point, can take a nasty, non-nutritious turn. Just because we are used to eating a certain way it does not mean it is the right way.
You still don’t believe me? In a study conducted with people with type 2 diabetes, participants were divided into two groups: One group was told to reduce their fruit intake and have no more that 2 pieces of fruit a day, whereas the other group was told to increase their fruit consumption and have at least 2 pieces of fruit a day. Results showed that the group that reduced their fruit intake had no effect on the control of their diabetes nor their weight.
So while keeping your blood sugar balanced is extremely important, this can easily be achieved by avoiding refined sugar and refined foods. If you want something sweet, reach for an apple or banana–or whatever fruit you like–before you reach for a brownie or a cupcake. Fruit does not have to be excluded or uninvited from your food plate party!
Lastly, I’ll leave you with one question. Next time you grab a snack, ask yourself what makes more sense: to pick up something that grew from this earth, with all the minerals from the soil and water, with sunlight (!); or would you rather pick something that was made in a lab and was put together in a factory from “nutrients” and then packaged all together in a pretty (but usually plastic) box?
(Hint: grab a piece of fruit and some nuts or seeds and your bellies will thank you ;)
Every couple of weeks, I will be posting nutrition and wellness advice, recipes, and interesting findings worth sharing with all of you. I know that we all have different interests and needs so I will try to cover different topics with every post. I would love to read your feedback so I encourage you to share your thoughts and/or questions in the comments section below.
If you would like to know more about me, please visit my website Alimental G.