Why low-sugar fruit?

Generally speaking, fruit is good for our body. It comes from nature and contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water, and fiber. All of the good stuff our body needs for optimal health! However, if excess body fat, diabetes or pre-diabetes, or cravings for sweets throughout the day is a problem for you, then there is a reason to limit fruit and make wise choices when you do enjoy it. I’m going to share with you why I encourage you to select low-sugar fruits mindfully instead of diving into the fruit bowl anytime of the day.

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Fruit contains both glucose, fructose, and sucrose, a 1:1 ratio of glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are two monosaccharides that are metabolized differently by the body whereas sucrose is a disaccharide that is metabolized similarly to fructose. Glucose is metabolized to first provide immediate energy to the body and then all excess is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Once storage is filled, it is stored as fat in adipose tissue. One key point to remember is that glucose triggers the release of insulin because insulin is required to move glucose from the bloodstream into the cell for energy production and storage (via insulin-sensitive glucose transporters). Fructose, on the other hand, is sent to the liver for metabolism. Too much fructose leads to synthesis of triglyceride synthesis and thus storage in adipose tissue. Remember the effect of glucose on insulin? Fructose does not trigger an insulin release and therefore does not contribute to satiety signals in the body. Bottom line: glucose raises blood sugar levels, fructose does not. Glucose assists in “feeding” the cells thus signaling the brain to stop eating, fructose does not.

So where am I going with all of this glucose and fructose talk? When we’re making choices on fruit, it is important to understand overall carbohydrate content and how much of that carbohydrate is sugar. The remaining carbohydrate content of a food is based in its fiber, which is also important, but does not contribute to overall levels of sugar in the food. Recognizing fruits that are relatively low in sugar is key to selecting fruits. These include (based on a 100 gram serving that contains <10 grams of total sugar) avocado, lime, lemon, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit, blackberries, cantaloupe, sour cherries, guava, apricot, figs, nectarine, orange, papaya, peach, plum, starfruit, tangerine, tomato, and watermelon. This is a large group of fruits to choose from so you need to never feel deprived. Additionally, 100 grams looks different for each fruit so do a little research and learn what 100 grams of figs looks like versus 100 grams of cantaloupe. All other fruits not listed contained more than 10 grams of total sugar for a 100 gram serving.

Now, to plug all of this fruitful information into your diet! Remember that 50% of your plate should consist of vegetables and low-sugar fruits. Once you’ve made at least half of that vegetables, then you can fill the other half with low-sugar fruit. If your goal is a low-carbohyrate diet then you would skip the fruit altogether and just nosh on your vegetables. If you’ve just finished a workout, enjoy 1 cup of fruit with a generous serving of protein. The body will quickly use the fruit sugar to refill glycogen stores with little or none remaining for storage in adipose tissue. As a general rule of thumb, I encourage you to be generous on vegetables first and then enjoy a maximum of 2 cups of fruit per day. The logic behind this is that if you’re dining on fruit at each meal and/or snack, then you’re removing opportunities to eat more fibrous vegetables that are naturally very low in sugar. Additionally, frequent fruit intake elevates blood sugar levels (sugar is sugar is sugar) and thus insulin levels are often elevated, too. Only so much glucose and fructose can be stored in the liver and muscles so therefore the rest is converted to triglycerides or stored as body fat.

Consider fruit as a healthy dessert that contains awesome nutrients. The vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants are all fantastic but just keep total sugar intake in mind when taking inventory of your total nutrient intake for the day. Two final notes: dried fruit and fruit stored in syrup is loaded with added sugar and should be avoided; and if you opt for high-sugar fruits, keep your serving size smaller than what you would serve for low-sugar fruits.

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The first 50% of your Real Plate: Vegetables and Low-sugar Fruits

There are a few fabulous reasons why I encourage you to fill half of your plate with high-fiber, low-carbohydrate vegetables and low-sugar fruits. Number one is that these foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have been shown to protect against chronic diseases. Number two is that they contain fiber to keep your digestive system running efficiently. And number three is that vegetables and fruit are low in calories per serving so you can enjoy plenty while doing your body good. Real good!

I encourage vegetables and low-sugar fruits are because the health benefits are through the roof! We live in America where diabetes, heart disease, and cancers are killing us left and right. It only makes sense to include foods in your diet that help combat these issues. Adding just 5 servings of vegetables and fruits to your day contribute to a healthy body weight, blood sugar management and reduction, a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers, and decreased digestive problems. Some say 5 is fine but I say 9 is divine! But let me be clear that the majority of those servings need to come from vegetables to prevent consuming all of your nutrition from fruit. Yes, fruit is good for your body, but 3 servings a day is plenty otherwise you’ll bump out room for vegetables to find their place on your plate. Additionally, if you have blood sugar problems then 1 – 2 servings of fruit a day is maximum.

Next up: Fiber.

By making half of your meal vegetable and fruit-based, you’ve already bumped up the fiber content of your meal without having to take a scoop of some manufactured fiber supplement. Fiber is lacking in so many of our daily diets that it can really create a burden on your wonderful body when we go too long without this key component to a good diet. On average, you should aim for at least 30 grams of fiber from real food each and every day.  How do you know what you’re getting now? Take inventory. Keep a food journal for a day (using an app or a piece of paper will do) and figure out how much fiber is in each of the foods you consume over the course of the day. For a better idea of how much you’re eating over the course of a week, do this for a few days and track only fiber to keep things simple.

The third reason to stick to 50% is that vegetables are incredibly low in calories per serving. There’s only so much raw spinach, cucumber, and raspberries you can eat before you feel full. For instance, 1 cup of spinach contains 7 calories. A large salad with 3 cups of raw spinach is just the beginning of a fantastic meal plus you’ve covered 1/3 of your vegetable/fruit servings for the day. And all for less than 25 calories. That leaves room calorically for grilled chicken, olive oil dressing, 1 cup of fresh raspberries (now your daily serving count has increased to 4!), and 2 tablespoons of chopped raw almonds for some added crunch and flavor. When thinking in terms of calories and energy, consider whether the food is a vegetable or fruit. Vegetables are lower in calories than their low-sugar fruit friends so I encourage you to choose vegetables first and fruits as a add-on to your meal.

 

If you’re still struggling with making dietary changes, here’s a great article from the Harvard School of public Health http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vegetables-and-fruits/ that highlights five quick tips to incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet. It may seem daunting at first to go from having a salad once every few days to including 2 servings of vegetables and/or low-sugar fruits at each meal but with steady practice your habits will change and it will become natural for your meals to always include these wonder foods!