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Is The Sugar In Fruit Good Or Bad For You?


It's not news that we're eating too much sugar, and a number of low carbohydrate diets like Atkins or South Beach suggest cutting sugar intake by eating less fruit. But should berries and melons be casualties of the war on sugar?

Elizabeth Bowler considers a pile of produce at the Davis Food Coop. She’s a psychiatrist and nutrition expert in Davis. It’s rare, but she does sometimes suggest her clients cut fruit from their diet. 

"Start with your sweet fruits like your bananas, you’ve got some sweet citrus over there, your oranges, peaches," she says.

She says reduced fruit consumption can benefit some people. She suggests people who are severely obese or hypertensive cut raw fruit.

"It might be necessary to go what we call very low carb at least initially eliminating most fruits, certainly grains, legumes and starchy vegetables," she says.

She says a low carb diet can help stabilize blood sugar and the body's insulin response. If you've been eating sweets for many years, your body struggles to process and regulate sugar.

"And, insulin is the fat storing hormone, so insulin will take excess sugar in the blood and put that into storage into fat," she says.

In other words, sugar is one likely culprit in the country's obesity epidemic. As with other chronic diseases Bowler says processed sugar, not fructose, is to blame.

Kathleen Deegan agrees. She’s a dietitian at Sacramento State University. At the Davis farmer's market, Deegan picks out strawberries. She rejects the idea that anyone should cut fruit from their diet, even temporarily.

"Even a diabetic should eat fruit, what they shouldn't eat though is fruit juice, they should avoid dried fruits, they should avoid canned fruits," says Deegan.

She says eating fruit aids hydration.

"You get more than 40 percent of your water from your fruits and vegetables, your carbohydrates," she says. "A lot of people you know abbreviate carbohydrates as carbs and I say, 'Hey you're leaving off the more important part! The 'hydrate.'"

She says the water in fruit quenches thirst because it's not likely to be eliminated as quickly as other liquids.

"A peach ... about the size of your fist or size of a baseball ... has about half a cup of  water in it," she says. "So, when you eat this not only do you get the fructose -- the great sugar from it -- but, it's [also] got a ton of fiber." 

She says the fiber slows down sugar in your blood stream. The water soluble fiber in fruit causes the watery food mixture in the stomach to thicken and thus flow slowly from the stomach (delays gastric emptying) thereby allowing the sugar to enter the bloodstream in a slow, controlled fashion, avoiding sugar spikes and responding lows. 

In other words, she says fruit won't lead to cravings for more sugary and starchy foods.

Deegan says eating a variety of produce is the key to health.

"So, if you've got purples, and reds, and greens and browns all on one plate that's fantastic," Deegan says.

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