by Michelle Snow, Dietetic Major ’19 University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator
As a Nutrition Coach it breaks my heart when I hear about people eliminating fruit from their diet because of confusion over the question of whether fruit is actually healthy or not. This question has been growing in popularity due to a concern about sugar content in our diet. For many people, concern about their health and the upward trend of obesity, heart disease and diabetes has turned into increasingly restrictive eating habits. This can result in cutting out entire food groups that are vital to our health and wellbeing. These restrictions are often due to fear of foods that are thought to be “bad” and a lot of confusion over which foods are actually “good”.
Why the concern over fruit?
The newest target for this pattern of restriction is carbs. Unfortunately, many diets have called for “cutting carbs” from the diet to achieve weight loss. The problem is that carbs come in many forms and they are the main fuel source that our bodies need to function properly. The food we eat is ultimately broken down into glucose that travels through the blood to feed our muscles and brain. Lacking a steady supply of glucose can result in feeling tired, dizzy or nauseous. When sugar levels get low from not eating often enough, our bodies will crave high sugar and high fat foods to get the fastest, most efficient source of energy.
If carbs are so important, why the bad rap?
Carbs include sugar, breads, pasta and are also found in some vegetables and fruit. Food manufacturers have developed many convenience food and drink options that tap into our sweet cravings, and these options are often loaded with an excess of refined sugar that lack vitamins or nutrients. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these foods, if they are eaten in excess on a regular basis this can be damaging to our health and lead to weight gain and other serious health issues as we age.
In contrast, fruits contain natural sugars and this sugar is packaged in combination with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and water. The fiber content slows down the digestion of the sugar so that you avoid a spike of blood sugar followed by a “sugar crash”. This means that fruit helps meet our need for carbohydrates without overdoing it. Fruit packs a powerful punch of nutrition while also tasting delicious!
How can I break the cycle of confusion?
Many foods naturally contain sugar, and this can be confusing if someone is trying to limit the amount of added sugars they are eating throughout the day.
Food labels will be changing over the next few years thanks to an update that should help consumers navigate their food choices better. The update includes adding a separate section under total sugar for “added sugars”. For example, milk has a naturally occurring sugar called lactose and is often packaged with fruit. Some manufacturers add additional sugar and the new label will provide this information more clearly so people can make better informed choices.
How can I add more fruits to my diet?
There are many fruits to choose from and each type of fruit has its own unique nutrient profile, so the more variety, the better.
Stock Up. Fruits such as apples, pears, oranges, peaches, nectarines, clementines or bananas don’t require refrigeration and are easy to stock up in your dorm and take to classes when in a hurry. Fruit cups prepared in 100% fruit juice are a convenient snack that don’t require additional preparation.
Juice. You can make one of your servings of fruit each day a glass of juice. Just keep in mind that juices without pulp lack fiber and some juices are processed with added sugar. Look for “100% Juice” on the label.
Dried Fruit. Dried raisins, cranberries, apricots or figs just to name a few, are a convenient way to add fruit to your day. Add them to your cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt. You can also create a personalized trail mix including dried fruit, nuts, and granola for a balanced snack.
Smoothies. Freeze fruits to make smoothies cold without having to add ice. You can also add greens or nuts to a smoothie for an even better boost of nutrients. If you are on the Maryland Dining Plan, take advantage of the smoothie station to get a yummy dose of fruit in your day.