Last week, I gave a talk at Vita about one of my favorite topics: SUGAR.
It's fascinating to see how sugar has become such a staple of the American diet, and I'm not just talking about the teaspoon or two in your cup of coffee. It makes its way into bread, yogurt, pasta sauce, breakfast cereals (including many of the "healthy" choices), salad dressing, and it's unbelievably concentrated in our drinks, from soda to smoothies. Consider this:
In 1822, Americans consumed about 35 grams of sugar over the period of five days. That's less sugar than found in a 12-oz can of Coke.Today, the average American consumes more than 150 grams of sugar a day--that's more than 3/4 of a cup of straight sugar!*
We're wired to live in a world where sugar is scarce, but our environment is abundant with it. We've all gotten the message that it's time to cut back on sugar. This inevitably brings up the question: Should we be eating fruit? After all, there's plenty of sugar in it!
Short answer is that for a healthy individual without food sensitivities, there are lots of benefits to including fruit as part of a healthy diet:
- The sugar in fruit is balanced out by fiber that slows it's absorption in our bodies. Rather than spiking our blood sugar like soda, fruit provides a more gentle rise in blood sugar and a fine source of energy
- Fruit provides a source of vitamins and phytonutrients: We all know citrus provides vitamin C, but did you know apples and grapes are a good source, too? Bananas are high in potassium, and dark berries like blueberries are high in anthocyanins that may be as protective to our cells as they are the fruits themselves in nature
- And this is a big one: The natural sweetness of fruit can satisfy our sweet tooth and crowd out candy, soda and other heavily processed sweets. Many of my clients find themselves faced with the prospect of working to bring down an unnaturally high preference for sweetness as a result of regularly consuming heavily sweetened processed food. Fruit is an excellent replacement for those sugary treats as we work to readjust our taste buds to whole foods.
Fruit is not the enemy: Heavily processed packaged foods laced with sugar are the much greater health danger.
A caveat: Fruit is NOT a healthful choice when it's not in its whole fresh state (or frozen fresh). Juicing, for example, removes that pulp and fiber that slows down the absorption of fructose and other natural sugars, making it little more than vitamin infused sugar water. You would never sit down and eat four medium-sized apples, but that's about how many apples it would take to make an 8-ounce cup of apple juice, which you could swig back in a couple minutes flat. The benefit of the nutrients consumed in that juice is far outweighed by the negative impact of the giant wash of sugar flowing into your system--about two full tablespoons in that one cup. Fruit juice should be thought of as an occasional treat, just like a piece of cake or a cookie, and fruit juice concentrate used as a sweetener in baked goods should be treated as straight up sugar as well.
If you're looking for support in adapting the most healthful diet to support your lifestyle, let's talk about it!
* More scary stats on sugar here.