Nutrition might be one of the most confusing and conflicting disciplines. One year, eggs are good for you, then they’re bad, then they fall in the good graces of nutritionists again. Same goes for butter, meat and just about everything else under the sun. Even the seemingly most steadfast of all the golden rules of nutrition is scrutinized these days: eat your fruits and vegetables.
Lately, fructose-filled fruit has been vilified. Fructose, or fruit sugar, is blamed for blood sugar spikes that can contribute to type 2 diabetes. And if you are already living with type 2 diabetes, you may have been told or read or heard that fruit is bad for you.
Is there any truth to this advice? Fruit, after all, contains antioxidants that are found in no other foods. For example, citrus fruits contain a plant chemical called limonene that interacts with your body’s endocannabinoid system (which itself is the subject of another article).
The endocannabinoid system, when properly activated, helps maintain balance in all of your body’s system, including controlling inflammation and the pain response. (CBD, a chemical in marijuana and hemp plants that doesn’t get you high, interacts with the endocannabinoid system.) Limonene, abundant in limes, lemons, oranges and mandarins, is not found in vegetables. So by eating citrus, you help your body to function with better balance. But is the fructose in sugar worth it? Again, certain fruits contain antioxidants that you can’t get from veggies.
Another antioxidant is lycopene, a carotenoid that lowers the risk of developing certain types of cancers. According to an article in Berkeley Wellness, the top five sources of lycopene are all fruits: guava, watermelon, papayas, pink grapefruit, and tomatoes. Tomato paste is a very rich, concentrated source of lycopene, and, yes, for the record, tomatoes are technically fruits.
Is Fructose Bad For Diabetes?
Eating fresh fruit is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, stroke and cardiovascular disease. But what about all the sugar in fruit? Doesn’t all the sugar in fruit create an insulin surge and blood sugar spike? Some research has found that excess fructose consumption is to blame for high levels of triglycerides in the blood.
To be sure, anything with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a cheap, synthetic sweetener, will raise blood sugar levels. In comparison, eating a serving of natural, whole fresh fruit (not dried), won’t spike your blood sugar because it contains fiber. Fiber slows down both digestion and the absorption of fructose.
Furthermore, fructose from real fruit, not processed foods that contain added fruit, ranks relatively low on the glycemic index (GI). The GI is a measure of how quickly a certain food with carbohydrate enters the bloodstream. Sucrose, which is table sugar, ranks 65 on the GI. Pure glucose scores 100, which is about just as high as you can get on the GI. As for fructose, it only scores 19. Fructose’s score is so low because of the fiber.
Now, here’s another confusing thing about nutrition, but an important thing to understand when it comes to eating fruit….
There’s another ranking of food’s ability to raise blood sugar called the glycemic load (GL). The GL is a reflection of how much your blood sugar will spike after actually eating the food. Certain fruits have a relatively high GI score. Take watermelon’s 85 ranking. But on the GL, watermelon scores a very low 5. The reason why is because a serving of watermelon actually contains very little carbohydrates. But why is the glycemic index so high then? Because there’s no protein or fat in watermelon to slow down the entry of sugar into your bloodstream. The important thing to keep in mind is that a serving contains such little carbohydrate that eating a serving (a cup of diced cubes) should have negligible effects on your blood sugar.
Fruit Satisfies The Sweet Tooth
Recent observational studies involving hundreds of thousands of people (like this one) suggests that consuming a moderate amount of fruit on a regular basis prevents type 2 diabetes. And if you already are living with the condition, regular consumption of fresh, whole fruits has been linked to a lower risk of developing other chronic diseases and complications.
If you eat natural fresh fruit (again, avoid dried fruits as they are much higher in sugar), the perceived natural sweetness of it may be enough to prevent cravings for artificial desserts like ice cream, cakes, cookies and the like.
By avoiding fruit, you may be cutting off your face to spite your nose. Eating a few servings of whole, fresh fruit every day is not a problem if you have diabetes. If anything, studies suggest that if you skip fruit altogether, you may end up with more serious problems.