Are the Natural Sugars in Fruits Really That Bad?
There are two pretty common pieces of health advice when it comes to our diets: eat more fruit, and eat less sugar, but don’t these two recommendations contradict each other?
As fruit contains the natural sugars sucrose, glucose and fructose, and we are told (rightly) that we should avoid excess sugar consumption, it’s easy to assume that fruit is not as healthy as we are led to believe. So is the sugar in fruit bad for you?
The answer to this question is a resounding ‘no’, and in this post we will look at what the sugars in fruits are, how they are not damaging to your health, and the various benefits of eating fruit.
What are the different types of sugar in fruits?
There are several types of sugar found in both food and drinks, including the single molecule substances glucose and fructose, and the more complex structures sucrose and lactose. Fruit is rich in what’s known as ‘natural sugars’ – a combination of sucrose, fructose and glucose.
These same sugars are refined and removed from their naturally occurring products to create ‘free sugars’. These free sugars are then added to food and drink products, with this type of sugar considered bad for us. But how can the same sugar molecules be fine in one form and harmful in another?
The difference between natural and free sugars
Although free sugars and natural sugars contain the same molecular components, the reason that one is harmful and the other isn’t is due to how they are produced. Free sugars have been removed from their source, meaning that instead of being consumed as part of a naturally-occurring fruit, vegetable or grain, they are eaten alone.
This change of context makes all the difference, as the other components that make up fruits, such as water and fibre, are no longer there to dilute it. This means that free sugar hits your liver in large amounts, while natural sugars get there much more slowly and in smaller quantities. The body is built to easily metabolise sugar delivered slowly, because in its natural form it takes time to chew and digest. Large amounts of sugar without the other stuff is much harder to process.
As an example, an apple contains 23 grams of sugar, while a regular 330ml can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar. The sugar in an apple is completely healthy, as eating an apple can make you feel full, while a can of soda doesn’t. Because the drink isn’t filling, it also doesn’t stop you from consuming other food either.
Fructose is the sugar molecule that causes damage, and it is almost impossible to consume enough fructose through eating fruit to cause harm. This is because you would become full from the fibre and water in fruit long before you have consumed dangerous levels of fructose.
The fructose in free sugars, however, is removed from these other components making it much easier to consume large amounts in a short period of time.
So are sugars in fruits bad for you?
At the beginning of this post, we posed the question is the sugar in fruit bad for you?’. Although fructose has a negative impact on your health when consumed in the form of free sugar, when present in fruit it’s not bad for you at all.
The health risks that are associated with sugar, such as weight gain and tooth decay, are linked to free sugars. The sugars in fruit will not lead to any negative effects on your health at all.
Foods that are sources of free sugar, such as fizzy drinks, biscuits and sweets have little other nutritional value. This means it’s easy to eat more of them than fresh fruit, which is why doctors often suggest replacing sugary snacks with fruit.
In fact, not only are the sugars in fruits not bad for you, but fruit is loaded with other nutrients that make them very good for your health.
What else is in fruit that makes it so beneficial?
As we mentioned before, fruit is more than just sugar. All varieties of fruit contain plenty of different nutrients that are important to ensuring positive physical health. These nutrients include things like fibre, vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants and other important plant compounds too.
Fibre – especially soluble fibre, is particularly important to our diets for a number of reasons. Fibre is extremely filling, which stops you from snacking on unhealthy foods, while helping you absorb carbohydrates into your system. Studies have also shown that the filling effect of soluble fibre can also help you to lose weight as well.
Fruits also contain a mix of different vitamins and minerals, many of which are hard to get elsewhere, such as vitamin C, folate and potassium.
Vitamin C is important in the growth, development and repair of body tissues, and is involved in numerous body functions, including the immune system. Folate is also an essential vitamin that is used in the formation of DNA and the making of red blood cells. Finally, potassium serves a variety of key functions, helping enhance muscle strength and the nervous system.
All of these essential nutrients make fruit such a healthy food choice to eat. Of course, each type of fruit has a different composition of vitamins and minerals, and eating a variety of fruits will ensure you get a good mix.
When eaten in large quantities, the sugar fructose is certainly bad for your health, but the other components of fruit mean that you can’t reach dangerous fructose levels through eating whole fruits. Not only is the sugar in fruits not bad for you, but the various nutrients make fruit a hugely healthy food choice.