Updated: Jun 11, 2019
When it comes to advice about healthy eating, sugar receives a lot of attention.
We are probably all in agreement that eating sugary treats such as biscuits, lollies and fizzy drink too often isn’t good for us, but what about the natural sugars found in fruit?
Should we be cutting back on these also? Here’s what you need to know:
Sugar in our food
The World Health Organization categorises the sugars in our foods into two types:
1. ‘Free sugars’ This is sugar we add to food at home, or in cafes and processed foods, and includes honey, syrups and concentrated juices
2. ‘Intrinsic sugars’ Sugars naturally part of a food – such as the sugars bound into plant cell walls of vegetables and fruits, and in milk.
Why sugar gets such a bad rap
Our body treats all sugars the same – whether they are free (i.e. added), or intrinsic sugars. The sugars are released from the food and head off as fuel for our body and brain to function.
The problems start when we eat more sugar than we need. The excess is stored in our body as fat, which long term can lead to weight gain, obesity and the health related issues that come with it.
It tends to be easier to overeat free sugars than intrinsic sugars, because they are often used in high amounts in foods easy to eat or drink large amounts of. And they are often added to foods easily digested, meaning we don’t stay full for very long, leading to more snacking, and more overeating.
Sugar in fruit
Fruit contains two types of natural sugars – fructose and glucose. The amount and proportion of each type of sugar varies a lot depending on the type of fruit and how ripe it is.
For example, a ripe banana has around 17g of total sugar, whereas a green banana only has around 9g. The sugar content increases as starch is converted to sugar in the ripening process. Strawberries have around 11g of sugar / serve, while Raspberries have only 6g/ serve.
Fructose has been particularly under fire lately, with some groups suggesting strong links to obesity and heart disease. However, most of the research has looked at fructose as a free sugar, using unrealistically high levels of fructose, rather than the normal levels found naturally in fruit.
What fruits like berries offer, that many sweet foods with added sugar don’t, is a mighty nutrition punch!
They come with vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and a huge range of phytonutrients (which gives the colour) – together these all improve our health in a number of ways. The fibre in fruit also keeps us fuller for longer, and the water content can keep the energy levels relatively low in comparison to more processed food sources of sugar.
If fruit is so good for us, why doesn’t all fruit receive a 5 Health Star Rating? In NZ we use the Health Star Rating (HSR) icon to help shoppers identify healthier foods. Based on a mathematical equation, the formula takes into account a range of different nutrients to come up with a rating between half a star and 5 stars.
Packaged, canned and frozen fruit products play an important role in the diet, however their HSR can vary, mostly due to the variable levels of sugar and fibre content of different fruit. If a fruit contains less sugar and more fibre, they will receive a higher HSR.
There is also significant variation in water content of fruits, which can ‘dilute’ the nutrient values per 100g and reduce the HSR.
Eating a wide variety of fruit is good for us.
Just check the ingredients list to make sure you are eating 100% fruit, and if so – you can’t go wrong.
The bottom line
Properly qualified nutrition professionals worldwide agree eating fruit is good for us and we should have at least two serves a day.
While we don’t want to eat too much sugar – limit the foods with lots of added sugars, and instead enjoy foods nature has sweetened for us like berries.
Need some inspiration? Head to our recipes page on our blog to see how you can meet your 2+ a day.