Fruit, it does the body good!
The ability to control weight is heavily dependent on the food choices an individual makes on a daily basis. Very few Americans are properly educated in nutrition and many who read fitness and related magazines become even more confused. The general consensus of health professionals suggests emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains along with healthy fats and lean proteins in a calorie controlled diet. This sounds easy enough, but seems to be contradicted by many publications and self-proclaimed “experts” who suggest it is better to eat low carbohydrate diets rich in protein. New exercisers are often told they need to increase their protein intakes and cut their carbohydrates to lose weight. According to national statistics, the average American already consumes twice the needed protein in the diet and as for carbohydrates, very few educated persons would tell an exerciser to cut carbohydrates particularly when expressed as a percentage of calories consumed. For most people it is poor overall food choices that create high calorie diets rich in processed carbohydrates.
One area that can be an easy fix actually suggests an emphasis on carbohydrates. Although breakfast, lunch, and dinner provide the highest intake of calories and consequent glycemic load, snacks also heavily contribute to daily totals. Rather than loading up on protein shakes and bars, fruits may be a healthier and ultimately better choice. Certainly fruits contribute to antioxidant/anti-inflammatory activity in the body and supply high nutrient density but they also have very little impact on daily caloric intake. For these reasons, the government recommends 2-4 servings per day based on activity and size. Interestingly, the aforementioned “experts” suggest eating fruit creates a diet high in sugar and should be avoided. But in fact, fruit may be one of the best weight loss foods ever invented. With a high satiation to calorie ratio fruit is the ideal snack. The average caloric content is about 75 calories per serving and often less than 20 grams of sugar. This may be where the confusion occurs. The sugar is not processed, it is mainly a naturally occurring fructose; a monosaccharide broken down in the liver and free standing glucose. This is very different than high fructose corn syrup, an unnaturally occurring sugar produced through manufacturing and table sugar, which is processed cane sugar (fructose + glucose).
High fructose corn syrup is typically produced from modified corn material which essentially enriches sugar contents in the plant. Although the corn extraction is mainly glucose it is converted to the sweeter fructose using specialized enzymes. The end product is a combination of fructose and glucose or is sometimes turned into crystalline fructose. In the form of high fructose corn syrup, the sugar extends the shelf life of processed foods and is cheaper than sugar. This helps explain its abundance in so many of the foods consumed today.
In the body, fructose is broken down by the liver and directed to a specific pathway based on the glycemic load and other body dynamics such as activity versus resting metabolism. It may become glucose and enter the blood, get stored in the liver, or stored as a fat. Due to the fact that fruit has limited amounts of sugar and has a balance of monosaccharides and disaccharides, the impact on the blood is limited. For instance, an apple has 14 g carbohydrates, of which only 10 g come from sugar. A peach has only 10 g of carbohydrates with 8 g from sugar, and even the fruits known to contain more sugar have limited quantities; including the banana (12 g sugar) and grapes ( 16 g sugar). Processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the problems whereas fruits in true form are not. One caveat though, fruit juice is not the same as raw fruit. The removal of the fiber and often fortification of other sugars dramatically change the product and by volume increase the sugar content of the food, oftentimes dramatically.
Fruit in its natural form may be the ideal snack. It can be consumed at room temperature, although tastier cold; has enough sweetness to taste like a snack food, contains fiber and many nutrients; and is naturally low in calories. The diversity of tastes also makes fruit a nice choice. Many people fail to have much variety in their diets and therefore increase risk of imbalances of certain nutrients. Fruits allow for broad tastes throughout the day and the concentration of nutrients help maintain health. Fruits are also part of our natural antioxidant resources. Berries and other fruits like watermelon help contribute to the natural protection against free-radicals, making them an important part of a daily nutrient regimen.
When compared to many other snack foods it becomes clear that a piece of fruit is a dieter’s best friend. Rarely can a sugary food be low in calorie and high in nutrients. Likewise the distribution of sugars (free glucose/free fructose) allow glucose to stimulate the hypothalamus to address hunger while the fructose is processed in the liver, consequently slowing absorption and preventing rapid blood glucose responses. Therefore considering fruit as if it were a bad thing would be demonstrative of a lack of education. Sure nothing is perfect. If an individual consumed an excess amount of fruit, their caloric intake would increase perhaps beyond what is necessary for a healthy weight. But clearly, the positives of appropriate fruit consumption outweigh the negatives. The table below lists some common snacks. Select any two and add them together – now compare the total to any two fruit servings, the evidence should be very clear.
Common Snacks- Calories> Glycemic Index
Cliff Bar Cookies and Cream 270 101
Nature Valley Granola Bars 190 50
Protein Performance Bar 290 34
Powerbar (protein plus) 270 58
Fiber plus bar 130 70
Fat-free light Yogurt 100 41
Nuts (1/2c) 407 24
Carrots w/ Ranch Dressing 130 38
Bran Muffin 344 60
Doughnut 299 76
Peanut Butter Crackers 180 72
(Aunt Annie’s) Original Pretzel 340 83
Yogurt Parfait 230 53
Banana (med) 72 30
Concord Grapes 62 49
Blueberry 89 39
Watermelon 86 72
Grapefruit 85 25
Apple 65 28
Orange 86 40
Cantaloupe 60 65
Strawberries 49 40
Peaches 59 28