Experts agree fruit should be part of a healthy diet


Include fruit as part of a healthy diet ... Pictured above is Jill Fleming, MS, RD/LD, Veterans Memorial Hospital Dietitian with a display illustrating foods that look like the body part that they nourish. Fleming encourages patients to include fruit as part of a healthy diet. Submitted photo.

By Jill Fleming, MS, RD/LD, Veterans Memorial Hospital Dietitian

Sugar is the new fat. The latest low-carbohydrate diet craze says sugar is the root of all dietary evil. There is good reason to be concerned, as sugar laden drinks and snacks are prime contributors to our obesity epidemic. Unfortunately, in an effort to get rid of sugar, most people are going too far by shunning fruit too.

It is a fact that fruit contains sugar, mostly fructose. And fructose, often in the chemically altered form of “high fructose corn syrup”, is the source of unwanted added sugar (and calories) in everything from soda pop to ketchup.

The logic is that if we need to avoid the sugar in a soda pop, shouldn’t we be just as concerned about sugar in an apple? The answer to that question is NO!

There are three important reasons to include some fruit in your daily diet, and they all decrease your risk of chronic diseases, plus you will feel better.

The first reason is that although an apple and a can of soda pop are both vehicles for fructose, the sugar in fruit naturally comes with fiber.  Fiber limits the amount of sugar that your body absorbs. Junk food and sugary beverages are typically devoid of fiber, allowing the sugar to quickly enter your bloodstream.

A high fiber diet is beneficial for controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, losing weight and preventing diverticulitis episodes. The recommendation is to consume 25-35 grams of dietary fiber daily, yet most Americans fall far short of meeting this goal. One large apple or one cup of berries contains almost five grams of fiber.

The second important difference between whole fruit and other foods with added sugar/fructose, is that fruit contains many health promoting nutrients, which decrease inflammation. For example, many fruits are rich in potassium, which keeps the heart, nerves and muscles working correctly. It also helps keep blood pressure in normal range. Potassium-rich fruits include bananas, oranges and apricots.

Despite the concern that eating fruit may increase the likelihood of diabetes, the data shows the exact opposite. Recent research found that greater consumption of specific whole fruits, particularly blueberries, grapes and apples, is significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Greater consumption of fruit juice was associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.1

An antioxidant concentrated in berries, cherries and purple grapes, is called Anthocyanin. Anthocyanins have the ability to target carbohydrate digestion in the gut, to limit how much sugar gets into your blood. These little power-houses may improve how your insulin functions in your body.2

A new study confirmed that fruit eaters had a lower risk of getting diabetes. It showed that among those who already have diabetes, eating more fruit was linked to a longer life with fewer complications of diabetes.3

So if you are considering decreasing the carbohydrates in your diet, feel free to skip the soda pop, junk food, bakery items and white flour bread. Continue to eat fruit because the fiber, antioxidants, potassium and other nutrients will help you lose weight, control your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. You may even notice having more energy.

For most people, eating  two to three servings of whole fruit daily is a strongly positive health choice. One serving is one-half cup of most fruits or one cup if you are eating berries. Just remember that we are talking about whole fruit… not fruit juice or fruit loops.

1. BMJ. 2013 Aug 28;347:f5001. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f5001.  Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies.
2. Nutrients. 2017 Oct; 9(10): 1111. Published online 2017 Oct 12. doi: 10.3390/nu9101111
3. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002279 PubMed: Published: April 11, 2017 Fresh fruit consumption in relation to incident diabetes and diabetic vascular complications: A 7-year prospective study of 0.5 million Chinese adults.
 

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