With holiday season approaching, sugar-filled foods are more tempting than ever. We know sugar is no good for us, but, are naturally sweet fruits and veggies just as bad? To help you make the right health choices, here’s what you need to know about sugar.
Sugar has made its way into just about every consumable food product in the supermarket — even places where it shouldn’t be, like condiments, breads, peanut butter, and savory sauces.
As the sugar in our food supply increases, the health of our nation plummets. The consumption of refined sugar has been linked to a variety of health concerns, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, which are all on the rise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 69% of the U.S. population is now overweight or obese, and diabetes rates have practically doubled in the past 20 years–from 5.5% in 1994 to 9.3% in 2012. Heart Disease is the number one killer, not only in America, but globally.
With the latest research all pointing a finger at refined sugar, doctors and researchers are now urging us to curtail our consumption. Currently, the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons (88 grams) of added sugar a day, while the average child consumes 32 teaspoons (128 grams).
The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more that 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar a day, while others take an even more extreme view. Pediatric Endocrinologist Dr. Daniel Lustig, perhaps the most vociferous critic who truly ignited the war on sugar, recommends we don’t have any refined sugar. Zilch. Zero.
But what about fruit and fruit juices? These foods do contain sugar too, so should we ditch them??
The Truth About Sugar in Fruit
One of the most common food myths: that fruit causes weight gain due the presence of natural sugars. In fact, science says the opposite. A study from the journal Nutrition found that obese and overweight people lost more weight when they added fruit to their diets. Researchers at the USDA found that individuals of “normal” weight consumed much more fruit compared to people who were overweight and obese.
Fruit does contain natural sugar, but unlike refined sugar, it’s not as detrimental to the body. Fruit contains fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, while also providing a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
As far as diabetes is concerned, recent research out of Harvard, and published in The British Journal of Medicine, found that people who ate at least two servings each week of whole fruits — particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples — reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by as much as 23% in comparison to those who ate less than one serving per month.
Whole fruit will always be a better choice over any refined sugar snack, even if they contain the same amount of sugar and calories.
What About Juice?
With juice, the answer is a little trickier.
First off, there are two types of juice: those that are freshly squeezed or pressed and still retain a high level of antioxidants and phytonutrients, and those that are bottled and have a shelf life beyond a few days.
The bottled variety (the most commonly consumed) has to be highly processed in order to give a perishable product, like juice, a longer shelf life, which results in less antioxidants and phytonutrients. But what’s worse is that some bottled juices will contain added sugar and preservatives, or are made from concentrates, which are best avoided.
Fresh pressed juice, the kind you make at home yourself or get in a health food store, is always a better option over the highly processed bottled variety.
What About Natural Sugar in Fresh Pressed Juice?
Any sort of fruit juice, whether bottled or pressed, will cause a more rapid and pronounced rise in blood sugar than if you ate the whole fruit. There is no question about that. This occurs because by its very nature, juice has had the pulp or fiber removed.
For a healthy person, though, in my opinion, consuming organic fresh pressed fruit juice in moderation as part of an overall healthy and well-balanced diet shouldn’t be cause for concern.
Fresh pressed juice delivers an abundance of phytonutrients in an easy to consume package. What’s more, in a 10-year study looking at the long-term effects of consuming added and naturally occurring sugars in foods and beverages, researchers found a strong association between added sugar intake and being overweight or obese, but no significant association was found between naturally-occurring sugar intake and overweight/obesity.
For anyone with diabetes, or at risk of diabetes, sticking to non-sweet vegetable juices is a better choice.
The war on sugar is really the war on refined sugar. Eating a whole food, plant-based diet, especially rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, is the key to health.
Maria Marlowe is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach who has helped hundreds of people improve their health through improving their eating habits. She specializes in weight loss and clearing up acne through a real, whole food diet.
Her work has been featured in Vogue, The New York Times, and more. Her first book, The Real Food Grocery Guide, will be published May 2017. Visit www.mariamarlowe.com for her meal plans and recipes, or keep in touch with her on Facebook and Instagram (@maria_marlowe).
Originally published at www.juicero.com on October 4, 2016.