We hear it all the time – you gotta watch your sugar intake. It’s all over health brochures and diet ads. We hear it at the doctor’s office and from our dentist.
But what really is the problem with sugar? And in particular, the sugar in fruit?
A Sugar is a Sugar is a Sugar
No matter where you get a glucose molecule, it’s the same glucose molecule. It doesn’t matter if you got it from a starch, or from table sugar. It’s the same thing.
Once it is broken down into its monomer component, all glucose molecules are processed the same way in the metabolism stage. It is at this point that all sugars tend to converge.
What does make a difference however, is the structure of the food that the sugar has been taken from, or in other words, the food matrices, that can influence the digestion and absorption of the sugar.
But as long as you can break it down, the glucose molecule is comparable between different foods.
Sugars in Fruit
Fruit contains primarily 3 types of sugar – glucose, fructose and sucrose. These are monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and a disaccharide (sucrose).
These are the easiest sugars to assimilate, and for sucrose, to digest. Disaccharides are very easy to break apart into their individual monomer components. And when you do so, you are left with more glucose and fructose.
From there, the sugars are sent to the liver and either stored or utilized for energy.
Fiber can help slow down the absorption of sugar in the fruit as well, so that it won’t cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. Even diabetics are able to eat fruit and vegetables, and it may even contribute to improvement in their diabetic symptoms.
The following tables depicts the glycemic index and glycemic load of grains compared to fruit:
It is important to note that the glycemic index, while it does calculate how fast or slow the food increases blood sugar, it does not give the bigger picture as to what the food will do to your blood sugar when it is consumed. The glycemic load takes into account both the glycemic index of the food and the amount it will deliver to the bloodstream. A glycemic load below 10 is considered low, and above 20 is considered high.
So what is the problem?
As I’ve blogged about in previous other articles, the sucrose in sugar could be responsible for cavities, due to the ability of the cariogenic bacteria in our mouths to form plaque only with sucrose.
And much of our fruit today has been hybridized to be higher in sucrose, due to its sweeter taste, than are most wild varieties of fruit. For this reason, the problem with fruit could show up on your teeth without proper dental hygiene and practices.
But is that reason to completely write off fruit as a main source of carbohydrate?
There may also be a limit to the amount of fructose even a healthy individual can metabolize, but this is also regulated by the amount of glucose the accompanies the fructose. And as stated earlier, this is usually very well balanced in most fruit.
Not only is fruit the easiest to digest, without spiking your blood sugar, it also contains:
- More water than other carbohydrates;
- The highest nutrition to indigestible material ratio, next to leaves;
- Can be eaten without any processing, preserving the nutrients;
Not only that, fruit also lacks some of the lectins in grains and some root vegetables associated with digestive issues.
So despite the possibility that fruit could cause tooth decay if not properly managed, it seems as though there are several positives that could outweigh the risks (which could be prevented).
Fruit is the food that man has nourished himself with since before we even became human, and it has followed us even into our modern day and age where it is still widely available.
Perhaps we have overlooked one of the most beneficial sources of carbohydrate because we have vilified sugar, without looking at the bigger picture. When you weight the benefits versus the costs, it seems as though fruit should top the list of food to eat for health.