“Don’t eat too many fruits, fruits are bad for you because they have tons of sugar.” How many times have you heard this statement? I’m sure at least 100 times in your life. With many myths circulating the internet and being repeated in our daily lives, myths have become the new reality. I mean, repeat something long enough and it will be “truth”, right? I beg to differ. One of the many myths that has been around for a while is that fruits are just as bad as sugar because that’s basically all they contain, sugar. This myth even went as far as making people ditch fruits altogether in fear of getting diabetes or gaining weight/fat. However, the problem is that those people are missing out on healthy delicious foods that can even make you lose weight, so why the hassle? Is fruit sugar really the same as table sugar? Let’s put this under the microscope and kill this myth once and for all.
Sugar or table sugar is the common name for sucrose, which is often derived from either beet or cane sugar. Sucrose is a disaccharide of two molecules, fructose and glucose. As you can see in the picture, the molecule looks like two people holding hands. It is important to note that while sugar is derived from natural sources, the manufacturing process does not stop at that point. Sugar manufacturing processes often involve refining and bleaching the sugar which makes matters worse. The ratio of glucose to fructose in a sugar molecule is 1:1, they are both responsible for the sweet taste we experience when consuming sugar. Now, the question is; is fructose really the same as glucose?
Sucrose has been associated with a myriad of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and more. How true are those claims?
Does sugar really make you fat?
While many would answer yes, the scientific answer is NO, sugar doesn’t cause weight gain. In many clinical trials where subjects were fed high sugar but caloric restricted diets, no weight gain occurred. However, this is not to suggest that you should have as much sugar as you want. Sugar still has empty calories, or in other words, no nutrients. Additionally, sugar causes weight gain through easy consumption of lots of calories such as sugary drinks, juices, regular sodas…etc. Moreover, sugar may not cause you to gain weight, but it negatively influences body composition due to lack of nutrient density. HOWEVER, sugar has been a major contributor to obesity ever since it became more available. In 1975, the United States’ markets, restaurants and fast food restaurants started being flooded with sugary drinks, and data suggests that the obesity epidemic started with the start of that trend. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Sucrose and insulin resistance
Sucrose could majorly contribute to insulin resistance, however, when sucrose or sugar is consumed in moderate amounts, no significant effects happen. Sucrose causes quick insulin spikes when consumed which is not exactly good for your health, but if you do not consume sugar often and consume it in moderate quantities, you will be fine. Yet, due to the high amounts of sugar most of us consume daily, sugar poses a great risk of getting diabetes.
Sugar and Metabolism
Clinical studies that were conducted on the effect of sucrose on metabolism often come to the same conclusion; sugar adds unnecessary metabolic stress in humans and contributes to unwanted effects in body composition. Due to how humans store fat (lipogenesis, more specifically de novo) when an individual consumes sugar in more than moderate amounts, fat accumulation starts to occur. Sugar causes major quick spikes in blood glucose levels, which then makes your body “freak out” and start storing fat. When sugar is consumed in more than moderate amounts, this constant powerful stimulation of insulin starts to cause insulin resistance which ultimately makes matters worse for the overweight person by down-regulating insulin receptors sensitivity in skeletal tissue (muscle) which then causes down-regulation in nutrient partitioning efficiency and makes the person’s body favor storing fat over building muscle.
One major problem with sucrose
Another major problem with sugar is the fact that it is processed! Manufacturing processing of raw foods causes degradation of the foods’ nutrients which takes away from the overall content of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants; all essential for good health. Furthermore, cross contamination during manufacturing processes could occur resulting in adding unwanted foreign substances to the foods we will later consume. Such toxin could wreak havoc on humans’ health. So, given the fact that sugar is already nutrient-free and is processed through refining and bleaching, the sugar consumer gets a double whammy of problems and health hazards.
What makes fruits sweet are both fructose and sucrose, just like table sugar. But isn’t this the same as table sugar? Good question and the answer is NO! The reason fruits are different than table sugar is because fruit sugar is predominantly fructose, while containing smaller amounts of sucrose. Thus, stating that fruits in fact contain “sugar” is incorrect, however, they mainly contain fructose. It is crucial to note that fruits are not mainly sugar as people say, in fact the average content of “sugar” in fruits -varies from fruit to fruit, of course- is approximately 5-15 grams, which is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar to 1 tablespoon of sugar. In addition to fruits having fructose, fruits come pre-packaged with some goodies:
Fruits contain large amounts of minerals and vitamins that are both crucial to optimal physiological function as well as microscopic chemical cellular reactions. Any deficiencies in vitamins or minerals will have an adverse effect on your health and optimal function. In addition to being loaded with vitamins and minerals, fruits are mainly composed of water which is obviously essential to our survival. Fruits are good in that they keep you hydrated while fulfilling your sweet tooth. Moreover, fruits contain fiber; an essential element of a healthy diet that improves digestion, body composition and insulin resistance. To add to the goodies, fruits contain plenty of antioxidants, mainly phenols -which could also be found in tea-, a type of antioxidants that boosts your immune system and can protect you from cancer and other harmful free radicals. The last thing fruits have is VOLUME! Fruits are much more voluminous than sugar, for example; a medium-sized apple vs a tablespoon of sugar, both have roughly the same number of calories, but in addition to the apple being more nutrient dense while sugar basically containing empty calories, the apple has more volume which will help curb your hunger and make you sate.
Furthermore, clinical studies are constantly proving that fructose is not bad and could even be healthy for you! Many studies have concluded the following about fructose:
Fructose is not absorbed by the human body!
Majority of free fructose is not absorbed by the human body. Moreover, fructose escapes the digestion process and experiences fermentation in the large intestine. In other words, fructose acts like dietary fiber! If you forgot how essential dietary fiber is to your health, weight loss endeavor and digestion, read this article. Because of this special trait of fructose, it could technically be assumed that fructose has a thermogenic effect just like fiber; the body works harder to digest fructose, but since it’s resilient to digestion, the body expends more energy to try and digest it anyway.
Fructose has less calories than you think
Since much of the fructose is not absorbed, only small amounts of its energy content are absorbed in the digestive system, more specifically the colon. In simpler terms, many of the calories contained in fructose will not be utilized by your body nor stored, they will just pass through. However, you should still count those calories as you normally would since there is no definite way to say how much of the energy will be absorbed by your own individual body. Compared to table sugar, sucrose, all the calories are absorbed by the human body and since sugar is not satiating at all, the calories can rack up quickly.
Fructose is low glycemic
Since free fructose which is predominantly available in fruits passes the digestion process and acts more like dietary fiber, fructose proved in multiple trials that it can slow down the rate of digestion and even lower the insulin spike caused by simple sugars and high carbohydrate foods. To investigate the matter, one of the studies had the subjects drink a sugar solution and monitored their blood glucose levels to observe the insulin spikes. Like you’ve probably guessed, the sugar solution spiked the insulin levels in the subject very high within 15 minutes. The researchers then had the subject consume some blueberries -they contain sugar, right? – to see if any adverse effects in blood glucose levels would occur and the results were shocking. You may have hypothesized that the insulin spike would be even larger due to the extra sugar content in blueberries, however, the exact opposite occurred. The subjects’ blood glucose levels did not spike as much and were stable over the course of a few hours following the experiment. So, the blueberries -fructose- hindered the insulin spike, stabilized blood glucose levels and thus prevented any potential hypoglycemic dips. To confirm their findings, the researchers wanted to exclude whether the dietary fiber in blueberries contributed to the insulin spike controlling effect or not, so they repeated the experiment but they substituted blueberries with berry juice, which has none of the fiber content in blueberries. The same observations were indicated, though, the only difference is that the juice did not control the insulin spike as much at the 15-minute mark, but the rest of the observations were similar to eating the whole fruit!
What’s the final verdict?
The final verdict is inevitably in favor of fruits! Due to the high nutrient density, water content, fiber content and fructose health benefits, fruits win the battle against sucrose. Furthermore, recent clinical studies show improvement in health markers when fructose is consumed in moderate quantities. Fructose (fruit sugar) can improve your insulin sensitivity, aid in digestion and contribute to less calories being consumed due to its lack of absorption in the digestive system which ultimately results in weight loss and favorable body composition. In addition, sugar goes through extensive processing practices which can contribute to sugar being even more hazardous to humans’ health due to potential accumulation of toxins and radical foreign substances during “accidental” cross contamination between stages of manufacturing. Fruits are nature’s candy, which also happen to unprocessed and beneficial to health and body composition, substitute your sugar intake with fruits and never look back. Oh, and fruits will fill you up more so than sugar due to being voluminous. Sometimes you can have your fruits and eat them ;).
If you found this article helpful in clearing up the ongoing confusion between sugar and fruits, feel free to share it with your friends. And if you have any comments or questions, feel free to post them in the comments section below.
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