Will Eating Fruit Make You Fat?
Dakota Howe - B.S in Food & Nutrition
Lately, consumers have become increasingly aware of sugar consumption. There seems to be a “sugar scare” amongst the general public and food and beverage companies have taken notice. The response has been an increase in “sugar-free” and “unsweetened” product lines of common food items such as granola, dairy-free milks, salad dressings and packaged snack items like cookies and chips. By now we know that consuming an excess amount of sugar has damaging effects on our health and contributes to an increase in weight gain. But, does this mean that the sugars found in a banana and the sugars found of a can of soda are created equal and therefore should be avoided at all costs? The answer to this question is not so simple. It is true that the sugar found in the banana is virtually the same as the sugar found in a can of soda because sugar is sugar is sugar – no matter what source it comes from. And, an excess amount of sugar, no matter what its source, will ultimately lead to increased weight gain and high blood sugar levels1.
Fruits contain sugar - so that means they're just like candy bars right? Not exactly.
However, there is a big difference between foods with natural sugars like fruits and foods with added sugars. Natural sugars are sugars that are found (naturally) in fruits, vegetables, starch and dairy products. These natural sugars always come as a packaged deal with a host of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals and fiber – and this is what makes all the difference2. Added sugars on the other hand can be found in foods like pastries, candy, soda, juices (obviously not SaladPower!), breads, salad dressings and granola bars. Added sugars are merely empty calories that provide our bodies with no kind of nutritional benefits. They are often paired with foods that are not nutrient dense to begin with. So, while it is not necessary to try and consume a diet completely free of all sugars, it is important to limit your intake of foods with added sugar. The best way to do this is to consume real, whole foods and to read the nutrition facts label to avoid products that have added sugar in the ingredient listing whether it be from organic cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup2. Checkout our handy guide on How to Read a Nutrition Label.
The fiber in fruits makes all the difference.
Photo courtesy of @alphafoodie
According to the American Heart Association, men should consume no more than 36 grams of added sugars per day and women should consume no more than 25 grams of added sugars per day3. Consuming an excess amount of added sugars can eventually lead to type II diabetes, heart disease and weight gain3. Added sugars seem to pop up everywhere and sneak their way into foods that we would normally think to be healthy. Dairy products, for example, contain galactose which is a naturally occurring sugar found in milk and milk products, so it makes sense that you would find sugar on the nutrition label of yogurt. A 5 ounce container of plain Greek yogurt contains 4 grams of sugar while a 5 ounce container of raspberry “fruit on the bottom” flavored Greek yogurt contains 16 grams of sugar4,5. This means that the raspberry flavored yogurt contains 12 grams of added sugar – this is a significant difference! People typically think of Greek yogurt as a healthy snack option and with added sugars sneaking their way into common every day foods it is easy to see how ones sugar intake can really add up without them noticing. A healthier alternative to the already sweetened raspberry yogurt would be to mix in a serving of fresh or frozen raspberries into plain yogurt for a natural sweetener. Not only do raspberries add additional flavor, but one serving of raspberries (half a cup) also contains 4 grams of fiber along with other vitamins and minerals.
Added sugar are prevalent in nutrient weak foods
Fiber is a plant-based nutrient that offers the body numerous health benefits. Most fruits are good sources of fiber, and it is the high fiber content from fruits that help that helps to slow down the absorption rate of the sugars from fruits into the blood stream. A medium sized apple contains 19 grams of sugar which may seem like a lot, especially compared to a snickers candy bar that contains 20 grams of sugar. However, the apple has 4.4 grams of fiber which will help to slowly release its sugar into the blood stream overtime providing the body with sustained energy. In contrast, the sugar from the snickers bar will instantly be absorbed into the bloodstream creating a spike in insulin and blood sugar levels6. Fiber also provides bulk and fruits typically have a high water content, so the bulk from the fiber plus the water will keep you feeling fuller for a longer period of time than something like a candy bar would. Additionally, fiber helps to reduce digestive issues (relieve constipation, alleviate diarrhea), lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and helps to aid weight management7. Now, you surely cannot get all of those benefits from sipping on a can of soda or snacking on a candy bar.
75% of items in your grocery store contain added sugar! Try limiting these items before limiting eating and whole fruits.
The thing with added sugars is that they can be added to nearly everything! When you think of foods high in sugar you probably think of pastries, dessert, candies, cookies, cakes and soda. But now, you can find added sugars in products that you would not initially think to have sugar in them and more importantly, products that do not need sugar. You wouldn’t typically think to find added sugars lurking in your yogurt, ketchup, pasta sauce, granola bars, bread, cereal and salad dressing – but, if you take the time to look, they are very much there! Again, this is why it is so important to read the ingredient listing on packaged foods so you will know exactly what it is that you are getting and to be aware of your sugar consumption. This is not to say that foods with added sugar like chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream or cream filled donuts always need to be avoided – they are perfectly okay to eat every once in a while, in moderation! Moreover, it is the total amount of sugars consumed that really matters – whether you choose a diet of foods with added sugars or if you decide to focus more heavily on whole fruits. That is why it’s important to keep track of your total sugar intake rather than getting too caught up on where your sugar is coming from. However, you can be confident in knowing that fruit makes the perfect addition to any healthy meal or balanced snack and you do not need to fear eating fruits just because they contain sugar. Eating a moderate amount of whole fruits will not make you fat!
*Sigh of relief* - you can totally have some whole fruits every day. Just keep an eye on total sugar consumption.
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