Sugar may taste sweet, but it sure seems to be causing a lot of trouble. As governments around the world debate the implementation of a ‘sugar tax’ to tackle a growing health crisis, many of us are looking to reduce intake in our own ways. While we all know too much-added sugar isn’t great for us, reading the fine print on every label and knowing exactly what to do about it isn’t always straightforward.
The biggest problem? When we think we’re doing the right thing by lowering our sugar intake, but what we’re actually doing is missing out on other important nutrition. Case in point: fruit.
Some have mistakenly taken the ‘less sugar’ message to mean avoiding fruit as a regular part of our diet, or that we should cut it out entirely. However, everybody – especially those on a plant-based diet – should be taking advantage of fruit’s natural goodness. So it’s time to clear up some confusion and stop demonizing fruit sugars.
The real bad guys?
‘Free sugars’. The World Health Organization defines free sugars as those that are refined and added to processed foods, as well as the sugars in honey, syrups and processed fruit juices or concentrates. As adults, the WHO recommends we have no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar per day – that’s less than 10% of our total energy intake. However, these guidelines are not referring to the sugars in fruit! Although all sugars deliver the same amount of calories in their natural or processed state, the highly publicized health risks of sugars are linked to overconsumption of these ‘free sugars.’
Why is the sugar in fruit different?
The sugar in fruit is processed differently by our bodies because fruits come with much more than just sugar – they’re also packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which are essential for good health. Fibre has been shown to effectively slow down the absorption of sugar into our bloodstream, making fruit a low-GI food. Fruit juice counts as a ‘free sugar’ because it has had this fibre removed. That’s why we should consume natural sugars as part of a ‘whole food’ rather than ‘processed food’ diet.
If fruit juice is a no-no, what about dried fruit?
Dried fruits have many of the same nutrients as fresh fruit. Some, like dates, can be a great whole food sweetener for cooking – they’re the secret ingredient in my Raw Vegan Brownies, and you can find that recipe at Centr.com.
But (there’s always a but) dried fruits should be used responsibly. Because the liquid has been removed, they’re more concentrated in natural sugars. It can also be easy to overeat them – so while dried apricots are a great snack, you need to keep an eye on how many you consume in one sitting. If you have the choice, go for the fresh fruit every time.
What’s the pick of the bunch?
Now we’re all ready to be friends with fruit again, I want to spotlight a few of my favorites. These are the fruits that really pack a punch, nutritionally speaking.
Raspberries and blackberries
Packed with fibre, vitamin C and a range of antioxidants for health and anti-inflammatory effects. Dark red and purple fruits are basically beacons of antioxidants calling you in. For a morning nutrient burst topped with raspberries, try my Choc Mint Smoothie Bowl on Centr.
Did you know that one orange contains more than your daily minimum requirement of vitamin C? In addition to being comparatively low in calories and sugar, they also contain antioxidants and may have immune-boosting effects.
We love a post-workout smoothie at Centr and bananas are ingredient No.1. It’s not just the smooth creaminess they offer: bananas are a nutritional powerhouse, containing vitamins A, B and C, plus potassium and magnesium. They’re low-GI and rich in prebiotic dietary fibre to feed our gut bacteria and keep our digestive system in great shape.
Watermelon can satisfy sugar cravings in a healthy way. Plus, the high water content helps you stay hydrated. Vitamin C and lycopene can have anti-inflammatory effects, and some studies even suggest a positive effect of watermelon on muscle soreness in athletes!
An apple a day is not guaranteed to keep the doctor away, but it’ll probably help! Apples are low-GI ‘superfood’ rich in antioxidants and with plenty of fibre – so long as you eat the skin. Most antioxidants are found there, so if you’re peeling the skin off, you’re missing out.
Simon Hill is part of the team on Chris Hemsworth’s personalised digital health and fitness program, Centr, available from the App Store for iPhone and Apple Watch or online at Centr.com. The plant-based guru and world-leading wellness podcaster shares practical advice on fueling your body for success via a vegan diet.