Does fruit count as sugar?

This article entitled “Stirring up a mixed message” in today’s Globe and Mail really got me going! Its opening statement “Canadians eat a lot of sugar.  Or do we?” suggests that the 26 teaspoons the average Canadian consumes every day just might be considered ok.  Wow! Really??

Quick summary: according to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian ingests approximately 21% of all calories in some form of sugar.  If you read the article carefully, there seems to be some lack of clarity regarding how much of this intake is from natural  vs unnatural sources.  And, really, if this amount should even be considered “too much”.

When 24% of Canadians today are obese and rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and hyperactivity continue to rise, we have to know that white sugar consumption is way too high.  However, one question I encounter a lot is about fruit. Is it ok or is it not ok?  Online comments for the above article reveal just how much misinformation is out there.

Sugar is a broad term that includes sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and fructose (found in fruits and vegetables) as well as other forms. But we need to make one thing perfectly clear.  Your body does not treat all sugars alike.  The rate of absorption into the bloodstream is measured by the glycemic index.  Essentially the higher the glycemic rating, the more quickly that sugar goes into (and comes back out of) your blood.  This affects energy levels, mood, sleep patterns, weight gain and food cravings.  Empty calories from nutritionally depleted sweets and refined products leave your body craving nourishment which, of course,  stimulates hunger and triggers over-eating.  Ideally, we should be striving for a slower release of energy, which will optimize digestion as well the absorption of the nutrients we’re consuming.

So what affects the glycemic measure of a food?  Only 1 of 3 things: fat, protein or fibre.  Fruit, in varying amounts, contains loads of fibre.  Not to mention vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants.  All fruits are nutritional powerhouses and should be included in your diet every day.  Do you want to eat 10 pieces of fruit on a daily basis? No, of course not. Your digestive system will probably wouldn’t be too happy. And, of course, anyone who is hypoglycemic or diabetic should be aware of how much their body can tolerate.  But no one gets fat from eating too much fruit.

Keep in mind that the sugar added to juices, yogurt, cookies and salad dressings does not come out of a banana.  The most common sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, is a synthetic, highly processed product derived from corn (which has probably been genetically modified).  With a glycemic reading of 92 (versus an apple at 54 or a banana at 75) it will cause blood sugar fluctuations, increase blood triglycerides and trigger fat storage and inflammation.  This is the sugar that is causing an epidemic of chronic illness and obesity in North America.  And yes, even 1/3 of 26 teaspoons is way too much.

If you’re an athlete, training several hours every week, fruit is the ideal carb source for energy, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects.  Eat fruit and happy Thursday!

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