Don't Eat that, Eat this
by Artemis Morris, ND, LAc
All too often, candy is a go-to snack for a quick energy boost. But the refined sugar in candy is also apt to create an insulin spike, raise blood sugar, contribute to inflammation, and, if you eat too much of it, increase your risk of gaining weight and developing diabetes.
Fresh fruit also delivers fast-acting fuel that can help give you a pick-me-up. The difference is that the sugar in fruit is made up mainly of fructose, not to be confused with high-fructose corn syrup. The fructose in fruit is a simple sugar that occurs naturally in foods and is a better choice because fruit also has vitamins, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. Of these, fiber is the most important because it can help slow down the body’s sugar response and help with lowering blood cholesterol and detoxification.
The sugar response is what happens after sugar enters the blood stream. The pancreas produces insulin to prompt cells to absorb blood sugar for energy and storage. As cells absorb blood sugar from a sugary meal, levels in the blood stream begin to fall.
When this happens, the pancreas starts making glucagon, a hormone that signals the liver to start releasing stored sugar. This interplay of insulin and glucagon ensures the cells throughout the body and brain have a steady supply of blood sugar. A fast response from the body can make one feel quick-witted, but once the blood glucose level falls, which it does rather sharply when an abundance of simple sugar enters the blood stream, the body and brain can then become slow and sluggish. This event is often called a “sugar crash.”
However, when you eat fruit rather than refined table sugars, the slower sugar response gives you a steadier stream of energy, helps your body use the energy better, and decreases the risk of crashing. Also, the fiber in fruit can reduce cholesterol and aid in bowel regularity.
Many of today’s university and college nutrition classes do not teach enough about the therapeutic effects of food. In integrative medicine, not only is the therapeutic value of food studied, but the quality of food, including the soil content it is grown in and its organic status, are also key areas of study.
Many studies have found, in addition to fiber, phytochemicals, or the essential substances in plants such as antioxidants, isoflavones, and polyphenols, have therapeutic benefits in reducing the risk of chronic disease and may help with metabolism. With the exception of using it like a drug if blood sugar is way too low, refined table sugar is not therapeutic and does not contain fiber, antioxidants, nor vitamins.
Pick and Eat
While fruit is obviously a better choice than candy, you also need to be conscious of the type of fruit you eat because fruit does contain sugar in the form of fructose which can increase blood sugar levels if over eaten. The best fruits to eat are those that are local, seasonal, organic or bio-dynamically grown fruit with lower glycemic indices. Organic fruit has been found to be higher in antioxidants and minerals and has lower levels of potential toxins. Also make sure to not eat over-ripe fruit. That’s why it’s a good idea to choose locally grown fruit, since it often ripens at the source instead of in transit and may not be irradiated. Irradiation is a process which prevents bacteria and bugs from hitching a ride on your fruit. Unfortunately, irradiation can also reduce essential vitamins such thiamin, vitamin E and C.
It’s also important to pick fruit that has a lower glycemic load. The glycemic index of a food is a numerical unit describing how far eating a food will raise one’s blood sugar level; however, it does not factor in a typical serving size, nor does it include the fiber content of a food. In 1997, researchers at Harvard University introduced the concept of glycemic load with the aim to “correct” for fiber content. The glycemic load of a food is determined by multiplying its glycemic index, then dividing it by 100, and multiplying it by the grams of carbohydrate (excluding fiber) in a typical serving size. In general, a glycemic load of 20 or more is high, 11 to 19 is medium, and 10 and under is low.
Dried fruit can have a lot of fructose in it because the water has been extracted making the naturally occurring sugar more concentrated. However, depending on the fruit, it can also be a good source of fiber. The difference between glycemic index and glycemic load can vary greatly for dried fruit. Be aware that dried fruit can often have added table sugar, sulfites, and preservatives, too. Carefully read the label of any fruit that is not fresh and pay special attention to serving sizes. A serving could be smaller than you expect. Many companies will make their servings smaller so that the calorie, fat, or sodium content appears more acceptable.
Try Something New
Many people don’t know which fruits to try. They are used to just eating apples, oranges, and bananas. But there is a whole cornucopia of fruits out there that have a plethora of health-promoting antioxidants packed into each delicious bite. In the 1990s, the Mediterranean diet became very popular because research showed it reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and chronic disease and uses fresh fruit as the main dessert. Before that there were not a lot of people eating fresh fruit, nuts, fish, and yogurt. Today these foods are everywhere. Be adventurous. Try fresh goji berries, currents, lingonberries, or grapes with seeds. The seedless variety of grapes has more fructose, but seeded grapes have additional antioxidants in the seeds. (Note: you have to eat the seeds to get the benefits.) Find out what grows well where you live and plant it. You’ll love eating something you have grown yourself.
If you have kids and you want to teach them healthy eating habits, offer them fresh fruit. You can cut fruit into neat shapes or let kids eat fruit with fun toothpicks. Another great idea is to go berry picking as a family. It’s fun and makes for a delicious treat. And always try to eat organic fruit. It is good for you and tastes better too.
Low Glycemic Load Fruits
(All serving sizes are 120 grams of fresh fruit)
Fruit Glycemic Load