By Anna Herby
With spring in the air and summer just around the corner, our diets naturally shift from the warm, dense foods of winter to the lighter, more refreshing summer delights. We trade in our stews for salads and switch our root vegetables for seasonal fruit. But how much fruit is too much? Doesn’t it raise blood sugar? Make people fat?
There are many misconceptions about eating fruit. These concerns are mostly due to the naturally occurring sugar content. While it’s true that there is sugar in fruit, there are also many other healthy nutrients. Most importantly, fiber. Fiber in fruit helps to blunt the blood sugar spike that may happen as a result of the accompanying sugar. Fiber also helps to feed your healthy gut bacteria, lower cholesterol, and prevent colon cancer, among other things.
In addition to fiber, fruit contains bioactive compounds called phytonutrients that work in the body in some very specific ways. These include acting as antioxidants, promoting anti-inflammatory pathways, and improving endothelial (blood vessel) function. High fruit consumption has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease and even decrease risk of some kinds of cancer.
In the case of diabetics, eating fruit may cause a temporary blood sugar spike but has been shown not to affect larger markers of health including Hemoglobin A1C (an average of blood sugar levels over 3 months), body weight and waist circumference. A paper published in 2013 looked at the effect of fruit restriction on blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes. The study lasted three months; participants were assigned to two groups. Both groups received nutrition counseling, while one group was instructed to limit fruit intake to no more than two pieces per day, the other group was instructed to eat at least two pieces of fruit per day. In the end, both groups showed improvement, likely due to the nutrition counseling. The group that increased fruit intake experienced the same health benefits from nutrition counseling as the group that decreased fruit intake. Researchers concluded that restricting fruit is not necessary for positive outcomes in patients with type 2 diabetes.
For individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, however, it may be prudent to choose high fiber fruits such as berries and mango and always combine fruit with a source of protein or fat like peanut butter, mixed nuts or roasted chickpeas. This way, the chance of significantly spiking your blood sugar is decreased but you still get the benefits of the fruit.
Eating fruit has even been associated with weight loss. A study published in 2008 showed that women who added three apples or pears per day to their diet for ten weeks ended up losing an average of about 3 pounds. When you choose a healthy, low-calorie snack like fruit, you naturally end up displacing other foods and eating fewer calories. For example, choosing to eat an apple rather than a bag of corn chips will help you to get important nutrients, keep you hydrated and take up space in your stomach. If you’re still hungry later, you may end up eating a few corn chips, but not as many as if you’d gone straight to the chips with an empty stomach.
The bottom line — don’t be scared to eat fruit! Apples, oranges, mango, pineapple, grapes and bananas all make wonderful treats on a sunny afternoon. See if you don’t feel just a little happier and healthier after indulging in a bowl full of berries.
And try out my new favorite smoothie recipe:
1 cup spinach
½ cup strawberries
1 frozen banana
¾ cup apple juice
1. Place all ingredients in blender.
2. Blend until smooth and frothy (about 1 minute).
3. Pour into a big glass and enjoy!
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Anna is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living and working in Seattle, Washington. She has been a vegetarian since the age of 12 and was drawn to study nutrition from this early interest in an alternate way of eating. She’s received a Master of Science in Nutrition through Bastyr University and completed a Dietetic Internship through the University of Houston. Anna has also worked with John McDougall’s 10-day program and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. When she’s not working as a Dietitian, she enjoys hiking through the mountains of the west coast, having completed a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 and planning to tackle the Continental Divide Trail within the next few years. Click here to schedule an online nutrition consultation with Anna, or click here to read her nutrition and hiking blog.
The health section on SpecialsNotOnTheMenu.com is sponsored by Sky Island Organics. You can visit their natural foods store at 54423 Village Center Drive, Idyllwild. To read about recipes and other health information, visit their blog at http://skyislandorganics.com/
A S Christensen, L Viggers, K Hasselström, S Gregersen. Effect of fruit restriction on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes–a randomized trial. Nutr J. 2013 Mar 5;12:29.
M C de Oliveira, R Sichieri, R Venturim Mozzer. A low-energy-dense diet adding fruit reduces weight and energy intake in women. Appetite. 2008 Sep;51(2):291-5.
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