The Truth About Fruit And Sugar
They say that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and we all know that fruit adds towards your recommended 5-a-day. But can something that tastes so sweet really be good for us? After all, fruit contains sugar, and there’s a lot of people out there who say sugar is bad for us – is this true?
Here we look at whether the sugar in fruit is any better than the refined sugar found in our favourite processed treats, and whether eating fruit is bad for you.
Is fruit sugar the same as regular, refined sugar?
Although both the sugar found in fruits and refined sugar are types of sugar, there are key differences - the main one being that refined sugar has been processed and manufactured, rather than occurring naturally. For example, cane or table sugar (sucrose) is made by processing sugar beets and sugar cane. Another popular type is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Refined sugar is usually added to foods to make it taste better, but it provides no nutritional value – which is why these sugars are sometimes referred to as ‘empty’ calories. Refined sugars also typically do not require much digestion for our bodies to process the sugar, which means it passes into our systems rapidly, causing a spike in blood sugar. The body responds to this by releasing high levels of insulin, which helps to bring blood sugar down.
Sometimes the pancreas releases too much insulin, causing ‘rebound hypoglycaemia’ or very low blood sugar. If you’ve ever experienced a sugar crash a few hours after eating sugary treats, you may have experienced this.
While the sugar in fruit is broken down by the body in the same way, it is typically digested slower than refined sugar thanks to the high fibre content in most fruits, which makes it much less likely to trigger large spikes in blood sugar. Fruit also contains vitamins and minerals, making it nutritionally much better for us than refined sugar. This is why health professionals recommend getting plenty of fruit in your diet.
Is fruit sugar bad for you?
We’re firm believers that no food is inherently bad for you, however all food is best enjoyed in moderation. Fruit is great for us, but we wouldn’t recommend eating 25 bananas in a day. Unless you’re having huge amounts of fruit in one sitting, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience negative effects from the sugar in fruit. If anything, you’ll be getting a snack which is packed full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and much more likely to keep you full than a bar of chocolate.
Eating fruit can also help to reduce cholesterol and even help with weight loss. Which leads us to our next question…
Are fruit sugars bad for weight loss?
Losing weight really comes down to having a calorie deficit, and no food will singlehandedly cause or prevent weight loss.
That said, fruit can be a handy tool for those on a diet – it’s often low calorie, and high in fibre, which can help you to feel full. Swapping high calorie snacks for fruit, especially if you’re someone with a sweet tooth, can make it easier to stick to a calorie deficit.
Can I eat fruit on a sugar-free diet?
A true sugar-free diet is very hard to stick to, and one we wouldn’t recommend as it’s very restrictive – dairy, pasta, rice, even vegetables, have sugar in them, and cutting out major food groups is not a healthy approach to weight loss.
When trying to lose weight, some people do choose to remove added sugar from their diets to reduce calories. However, there is no need to cut fruit out of your diet even if you’re trying to lose weight. Actually, if you’re in a calorie deficit it’s easier to lose out on vitamins and minerals, so eating fruit can help with this.
If you’re trying to reduce sugar for other health reasons, there’s still no need to get rid of fruit. Like we mentioned above, fruit sugars are slower absorbing than refined sugars and come paired with fibre and nutrients, so they’re great to include.
Do fruits affect blood sugar?
While fruit is much less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar than refined sugars due to the fibre it contains, it will raise your blood sugar to an extent. While too much blood sugar can be harmful, blood sugar itself is a completely normal biological function, and it is used by the body for energy – so there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to fruit and blood sugar.
If you have diabetes, or you find yourself sensitive to blood sugar, pairing fruit with protein and fats (for example, apple slices with peanut butter, berries and Greek yoghurt) can help to further slow down the release of sugar into the blood and prevent spikes in blood sugar. You can also opt for fruits which are lower in sugar.
Which fruits are high in sugar?
Some fruits are higher in sugar than others. Rather than see these as fruits to avoid, they make a great choice for when you need an energy hit – such as before a workout or as part of a balanced breakfast ahead of a long, busy day! Plus they can help stave off a sweet tooth while providing some nutrition.
Bananas (12g sugar per 100g serving). Bananas are the perfect ‘grab and go’ fruit snack, and a firm favourite with runners who need to keep their sugar levels high! This sweet treat is great at all times of the day, but also at night thanks to its many sleep promoting nutrients like magnesium and tryptophan.
Pomegranate (14g sugar per 100g serving. Although high in sugar, pomegranate is packed full of antioxidants and believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. It also has a unique sweet flavour and texture that make it a great alternative for processed treats.
Grapes (16g sugar per 100g serving). Grapes are another great source of antioxidants and minerals, including potassium. Sweet and crunchy, this fruit makes a great ice pop alternative when frozen!
Figs (16g sugar per 100g serving). Figs are rich in potassium, calcium, and fibre, making them a great healthy treat. Figs pair well with cheese, which is a great combination if you want to reduce the likelihood of blood sugar spikes.
Which fruits are low in sugar?
If you’re watching your overall sugar intake, fruits which are low in sugar are a great way to make sure you are getting the fibre, vitamins, and minerals of fruit without loading up on sugars.
Strawberries (4.9g sugar per 100g serving). Despite tasting sweet enough to be the centrepiece of many desserts, strawberry is actually pretty low in sugar!
Blackberries (4.9g sugar per 100g serving). Blackberries are another sweet summer fruit that is deceptively low in sugar. They’re also a great source of fibre and vitamin C.
Raspberries (4.4g sugar per 100g serving). Raspberries are full of potassium and manganese, and not so full of sugar, making them a great sweet snack.
Cranberries (4g sugar per 100g). This low sugar fruit is rich in antioxidants, fibre, and vitamin C.
What’s the best time of day to eat sugary fruit?
Fruit can be eaten at any time of day, so the best time to have it is when you want it, whether that’s pairing with yoghurt for breakfast, or as a sweet treat after dinner. If you work out, eating fruit immediately before, during, or after an intense workout, you can really utilise the sugars – either to fuel your workout before/ during, or to replenish your glycogen stores after.
So, does this mean fruit is the best snack? Our fruit vs nuts guide looks to uncover which is the mightiest treat when it comes to health. For more foodie advice, check out our Nutrition and Diet section, or head over to our Recipes hub for inspiration for your next meal. If you’re looking to start working out, check out our membership options and join a PureGym near you today.