Lately, I've been bombarded by questions about fruit. Is fruit good for me? What about the sugar? Am I eating too much? What's the best type of fruit to eat?
I thought the crash of the low-carb diet - Atkins, South Beach and the like - meant we were over our fear of healthy carbohydrates like fruit and whole grains. Apparently not.
Many new diet books are banning fruit or limiting how much of it can be eaten and when it should be eaten. The reason: Too much carbohydrate from fruit can prevent weight loss, or worse, make you fat.
That may be true if you eat a dozen apples every day (which would add 1,140 calories to your diet). But who does that? As a dietitian in private practice, I assess people's diets every day. For many people, fruit just isn't a regular part of their diet. Instead of giving strategies to cut down on fruit, most often I give tips to increase fruit intake.
Even national surveys agree that most Canadians aren't filling up on fruit. It's easier to grab a bagel or granola bar than an apple or handful of grapes.
Recently, The Globe and Mail's Dave McGinn reported on the fruit paradox: some diet gurus say fruit is nutritious and help reduce disease risk; others warn it can also promote weight problems.
If you're as confused about fruit as many of my clients are, this column will help set the record straight.
From a nutrition standpoint, fruit is a great source of fibre, potassium, vitamin C and folate, nutrients that help guard against disease. A diet rich in fruit has been linked to lower rates of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cataract, macular degeneration and type 2 diabetes.
And contrary to certain food-combining claims, you don't have to eat fruit on an empty stomach to absorb all of its nutrients.
Along with those nutrients, you also get carbohydrate, mainly in the form of the naturally occurring sugar, fructose. That means fruit also delivers calories - unlike most vegetables which contain much less carbohydrate.
For example, one medium apple has 25 grams of carbohydrate and 95 calories; one medium banana has 27 grams of carbohydrate and 105 calories and one cup of blueberries has 21 grams of carbohydrate and 84 calories. (One cup of broccoli has only 6 grams of carbohydrate and 30 calories.)
In one sense the diet-book claims are right: If you are trying to lose weight, you can't eat all the fruit you want. But eating a couple of fruit servings per day has never slowed a client's weight-loss progress. So, when I develop weight-loss plans, I usually include two to three daily fruit servings, depending on calorie intake.
But those with health issues do have to consider fruit choices carefully.
If you have prediabetes (also called impaired fasting glucose) or diabetes you need to limit your fruit intake to help manage your blood sugar level. And if you have high blood triglycerides (too much fat in your bloodstream), extra sugar from any source, including fruit, can worsen the condition.
Quantity and type of fruit matter.
To manage blood sugar, choose low-glycemic fruits that release their sugar gradually into the blood sugar. Most fruits have a low-glycemic value. The fruits to be wary of, those with a high glycemic index, are bananas, cantaloupe, dates, raisins and watermelon. They release their sugar quickly.
To manage high triglycerides, avoid fruits with a high fructose content. Consuming too much fructose enhances fat production in the liver. In this scenario, the good fruits, the ones with a lower fructose content, also include bananas and cantaloupe, but add grapefruit, nectarines, oranges, peaches and strawberries.
So yes, some people do need to limit their fruit intake, but they certainly don't have to avoid it. The rest of us could stand to increase our fruit intake.
The general populace
Health Canada advises adults to consume 7 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits (combined) per day. Although there's no official guidance on how many of these servings should be fruit, I recommend that you eat at least four fruit servings - two cups of fresh fruit - per day.
(One fruit serving equals 1 medium-sized fruit, ½ cup of berries or fresh cut-up fruit, half a grapefruit, mango or papaya, ¼ cup of dried fruit, or half a cup of 100% fruit juice.)
Keep in mind that dried fruit contains more sugar and calories per serving than fresh fruit. That's because fresh fruit is mostly water, which gives fruit its bulk.
Limit fruit juice to one serving per day and keep your portion to half a cup (measure!). It lacks fibre so it doesn't fill you up.
The following strategies will help you increase your intake:
•Keep fruit at work. Keep apples, bananas, pears and dried fruit in your desk so you'll have a healthy snack on hand when you feel hungry.
•Keep fruit visible. Decorate your table, kitchen counter or desk with a bowl of fresh fruit, to encourage healthy snacking.
•Include fruit at breakfast. Make a fruit smoothie with milk or soy milk, berries and half a banana. Or top a bowl of breakfast cereal with fresh or dried fruit.
•Serve fruit for dessert. Serve fresh fruit salad, fruit kebabs, frozen grapes, or simply eat a piece of fruit out of your hand, instead of a high calorie treat.
•Add fruit to salads. Toss dried or fresh berries, berries, orange segments or apple slices into green and whole grain salads.
•Consider convenience. Buy packages of frozen berries or cut fruit to add into smoothies. Pick up a fresh food salad or pre-cut fresh fruit.